Mara Group hopes a locally-produced smartphone, made in South Africa and Rwanda, will compete against the might of China's Tecno, which sells more handsets to Rwandans than any other company.

The Mara Group, the company which owns the prototype shown in this photo, is hoping to produce 1.5 million smart phones on the continent each year. Photo taken from website.
The Mara Group, the company which owns the prototype shown in this photo, is hoping to produce 1.5 million smart phones on the continent each year. Photo taken from website. (@MaraPhones / Twitter)

A Dubai tech firm is hoping to crack China's strong grip on Africa's mobile market by manufacturing its own smartphone on the continent.   

The Mara Group is hoping the home-bred smartphone, made in South Africa and Rwanda, will compete against the might of China's Tecno, which sells more handsets to Rwandans than any other company.

The Mara Group, the company which owns the smartphone, is hoping to produce 1.5 million of them on the continent each year.

Since launching in the Rwandan capital Kigali on October 7, the Mara group employs 200 people and has since opened another sister production plant in South Africa.

The Rwandan government has already embarked upon an ambitious plan to focus on information and communication technology to transform the country into a middle-income nation through full digitisation.

These mobile smartphones fit in with the plan.

'Africa ... can actually be a producer'

With the recent development of facilities like nationwide 4G and a fibre-optic network, the majority of people are adopting mobile phones for banking and data, not just phone calls.

In 2012, Rwanda scrapped import duty on mobiles and in 2015 the law was revised to remove import tax and VAT.

Two out of every three Rwandans now have a mobile, but the aim is to expand smartphones. Currently, just 15 percent of the population has bought one according to the National Institute of statistics.

Managing Director Eddy Sebera said the phones have "reassured the global market that Africa as well can actually be a producer and not only a consumer".

And they make use of industry-standard technology.

"Our phones are operating with an Android One platform, this is what we are using, it is an android phone, it is fully certified by Google and it has all capability that you wish to have from an Android," Sebera said. 

Cheap China phones

The Chinese made Tecno phones are cheaper than the Mara phones, costing less than $100.

Tecno entered the Rwandan market in 2012 and is the most common phone in Rwanda according to RURA (Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency), especially the Tecno Spark model which sold about 1 million phones this year.

The Mara phones come in two models. The Mara X retails for $130 and has 16GB storage, while the Mara Z retails for $190 and can store up to 32GB.

Sebera said the higher cost won't deter buyers, because he claims the Maraphone is made to a higher specification, using higher quality materials.

Business analyst Teddy Kaberuka believes the enterprise will thrive.

"This is a very profitable business itself because everyone wants to have a smartphone and we know how the smartphone lifespan is, so the maximum we can spend with a smartphone is two years,'' he said.

''Smartphone became like a consumable. The more we have it, the more we want it and as time goes, the more there are new brands coming online with new functionalities, people want new phones. So it makes sense that people can invest in the smartphone business and get a good return on their investments."

Local apps

Kaberuka also believes an African-made smartphone will spawn a new industry in phone applications that people are unaware of now.

"Sometimes we have functions (on phones) which we can't even use because we can't know (how to use them),'' he explained.

''But if you have a local producer who knows the market he will develop some apps which are fitting people's needs.''

Customers appear to be receiving the phone well.

"What I like with these Maraphones is that it is faster, it also takes good quality photos, almost the same as the iPhone or Samsung. I think with time, they will improve and will become a big name like other smartphone companies," Bienvenu Karera said.

Source: AP