Mara Phone, a smartphone by the pan-African conglomerate Mara Group, has opened its first factory in Rwanda, as it plans to have a brand of African-made smartphones in the market.
The factory, which is located in Kigali’s special economic zone, employees over 200 people to oversee and manage the production of smartphones.
The firm produces two models that retail at $159 and $229 and use Android operating system.
Speaking at the launch, CEO Ashish Thakkar, said: “We realised a few years ago that to create positive social impact on our continent and in emerging markets we need to have high quality and affordable smartphones. That’s when we came up with Mara Phones.”
The local market may, however, see the phones as quite pricey but the firm has entered into partnerships with local banks and telecommunications firms, to create a finance model which allows users to pay for their phones over a period of two years.
President Paul Kagame officially opened to factory. The President commended the drive towards affordable smartphones and underlined the need to boost the adoption of high-tech products in his country.
“The smartphone is no longer a luxury item, it is rapidly becoming a requirement of everyday life,” he said.
“That trend is bound to increase in the years to come as more and more services migrate to digital platforms. We want to enable many more Rwandans to use smartphones. The cost and quality is very important and the introduction of Mara Phones will put smartphone ownership within reach of more Rwandans.”
The Mara Group has a long history in Rwanda thanks to its 20% stake in the pan-African banking group Atlas Mara, which was co-founded in 2013 by Thakkar and the former CEO of Barclays Bob Diamond.
In 2015, the group acquired a majority share in the Banque Populaire du Rwanda.
Atlas Mara is now scaling back its pan-African ambitions through a share swap with Kenya’s, Equity Bank Group.
Thakkar described his new factory as “historic” due to its position as the first smartphone manufacturing plant on the continent.
“In Africa, we don’t manufacture anything,” said Thakkar.
He added, “We assemble in a few countries, but we don’t manufacture anything. We are the consumers but not the producers. When we first told people about Mara Phone they told us we were crazy and that it wasn’t possible. Our true belief in Africa, particularly Rwanda, is a dream come true. This is a historic moment which will help shift the narrative for Rwanda, Africa and the rest of the world.”