Mara Phone, a smartphone by the pan-African conglomerate Mara Group, has opened its first factory in Rwanda as the company hopes to pioneer a brand of African-made smartphones.
Mara Group launched two smartphones on Monday, describing them as the first “Made in Africa” models and giving a boost to the country’s ambitions to become a regional technology hub.
The new smartphones, the Mara X and Mara Z will use Google’s Android operating system and cost 175,750 Rwandan francs ($190) and 120,250 Rwandan francs ($130) respectively.
Samsung’s cheapest smartphone in the country costs 50,000 Rwandan francs ($54), and non-branded phones are 35,000 Rwandan francs ($37).
According to Mara Group CEO Ashish Thakkar, the company was targeting customers “willing to pay more for quality”.
“This is the first smartphone manufacturer in Africa,” Thakkar said.
Rwandan president Paul Kagame took a tour of the company.
Kagame said he hoped the phone would increase Rwanda’s smartphone usage, which was at about 15%.
“Rwandans are already using smartphones but we want to enable many more. The introduction of Mara phones will put smartphones ownership within reach of more Rwandans,” Kagame said.
Thakkar said companies assemble smartphones in Egypt, Ethiopia and Algeria but import the components.
“We are actually the first who are doing manufacturing. We are making the motherboards, we are making the sub-boards during the entire process,” he said.
“There are over 1,000 pieces per phone.” Thakkar said the plant had cost $24m and could make 1,200 phones per day.
The CEO announced in November 2018 that his company would invest R1.5bn in a South African venture over the next five years to build “affordable” smartphones.
At the time he said the phones would also be sold in Europe. The project is in partnership with Google.
“Mara Group hopes to profit from the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, a pact aimed at forming a 55-nation trade bloc, to boost sales across Africa,” Thakkar said.
The agreement aims to create a $3.4-trillion economic bloc, but it is still in the early stages and no timelines are in place yet to abolish tariffs.
Koketso Ramorei is a journalist and news editor of SADC News with years of experience in a number of genres including sports, politics and community reporting. He has worked for a numerous publications including The Citizen Newspaper and is a former editor of a Johannesburg-based off-campus publication called The Waldorfian Times.