KIGALI – Rwanda’s Mara Group launched two smartphones on Monday, describing them as the first “Made in Africa” models that would boost the country’s ambitions to become a regional technology hub.
Speaking during the launch, Rwandan President Paul Kagame commended Mara Group’s entry into the affordable smartphone market and underlined the need to boost the adoption of high-tech products.
“The smartphone is no longer a luxury item, it is rapidly becoming a requirement of everyday life,” President Kagame 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,” he added.
Mara Phones, a subsidiary company of the Mara Group owned by businessman Ashish J. Thakkar has built a high tech smartphone manufacturing facility in Kigali’s Special Economic Zone, Rwanda.
“We realized 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,” said Ashish Thakkar during the launch.
The Mara X and Mara Z phones will use Google’s Android operating system and cost 175,750 Rwandan francs ($190) and 120,250 Rwandan francs ($130) respectively.
They will compete with Samsung, whose cheapest smartphone costs 50,000 Rwandan francs ($54), and non-branded phones at 35,000 Rwandan francs ($37).
Africa Tembelea has also learnt that this is the first smartphone manufacturer in Africa. Companies assemble smartphones in Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa, 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,” Mara Group CEO Ashish Thakkar said.
Thakkar further said that the Rwandan plant that is already employing 200 people with women representing 60% of the workforce had cost $24 million and could make 1,200 phones per day.
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.
– Mara Group –
Mara Group, a Dubai-based, African-focused conglomerate is owned by 38-year-old Ashish J. Thakkar.
The company 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.
Atlas Mara is now scaling back its pan-African ambitions through a share swap with the rapidly expanding Kenyan lender, Equity Bank.
The Nairobi-based commercial bank acquired 100% of Atlas Mara’s operations in Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia along with 62% of the Banque Populaire du Rwanda.
The Mara Group are set to launch their next Mara Phone factory in South Africa on the 17th of October.