Smartphone penetration in Africa is estimated to be around 45%, generally lower compared to the rest of the world, but surprisingly high when considering how challenging it is to deploy adequate wireless communications infrastructure in many parts of the Continent. Nonetheless, nearly 75% of the African population has access to SIM-based services, which means that a high percentage of users share mobile phones. For consumer electronics manufacturers and wireless service providers, improving upon the current user base of about 747 million is a lucrative proposition, which is why the Mara Group of Rwanda recently unveiled the first two smartphones that can be rightfully described as being made in Africa.
Locally-Manufactured in Rwanda
The Mara Group is based in the United Arab Emirates, but the factory producing the Mara X and the Mara Z is physically located in Rwanda. The latter device is the current flagship smartphone; it is an Android unit with 3 GB of RAM, a 13 Megapixel camera, a 5.7-inch touchscreen with Gorilla Glass and 32 GB of storage, which reserves less than 50% for the operating system and the apps that must be installed on the main partition. There is even a fingerprint scanner for biometric security.
Market Likely to Spread to Entire Continent
At less than $200, the Mara Z is a pretty good deal despite being more expensive than the most popular models in Rwanda, which are mostly feature phones and Chinese-made devices with underwhelming specs. The idea is to entice African users to purchase locally-manufactured devices that are a cut above the current competition. The Mara X offers 16 GB of storage for $160, a more affordable price point. As can be expected, Rwandan users get first dibs on these devices, but the Mara Group is ready to take full advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement and its 55-nation economic bloc.
Opening More Access to Financial Services for Rwandans
What is interesting and inspiring about the Mara Group’s smartphone factory is that it is not an assembly operation. The only imported components are the Gorilla Glass touchscreens and the Snapdragon processors made by Qualcomm; all other parts are made in Rwanda. President Paul Kagame attended the opening ceremony in Kigali, and he held a special press conference to underscore the significance of this development. The most important goal within the effort to deepen smartphone penetration in Africa is to increase access to financial services, useful internet content, and public services.
As the situation stands, feature phone users in Africa can already accomplish a lot; for example the M-PESA digital wallet, which resides inside SIM cards and makes use of SMS services, allows Rwandans to send and receive cash across many nations. With more advanced devices such as the Mara X and Mara Z, African residents will be able to accomplish even more.