By James Tasamba
KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) - The Mara Group, a pan-African multi-sector business services company inaugurated Mara Phones manufacturing plant in Rwandan capital Kigali on Monday.
The first phones made in Rwanda rolled off the assembly line last week at the factory located at Kigali special economic zone.
Mara Phones was designed in partnership with Google as part of the Android One Program.
The new factory currently makes two versions of the phone priced between $129 and $189.
The factory employs about 200 people in Rwanda -- 60% of whom are women.
Speaking at the ceremony, Rwandan President Paul Kagame said the introduction of Mara Phones would put smartphone ownership within reach of more Rwandans.
"The product is backed by a warranty and the price can be paid in installments over two years. They have tried to make it as simple and useable for Rwandans as they could,” he said.
He noted that the percentage of Rwandans using smartphones was low, but that the government was gradually dealing with obstacles through such initiatives of Mara group.
In Rwanda, Internet penetration currently stands at over 52.1%, up from 7% in 2011.
Phone penetration has grown to over 80.6% currently, from 33% in 2010, according to the ministry of ICT and Innovation.
"The smartphone is no longer a luxury item. It is rapidly becoming a requirement of everyday life. That trend is bound to increase in the years to come, as more and more services migrate to digital platforms," Kagame said.
He underlined that the investment by Mara Phones Group was in perfect harmony with the country’s focus on science and technology, as the key drivers of economic transformation.
Apart from Rwandan market, Mara aims to export phones to other countries in the region as well.
Mara Phone chief executive officer Ashish Thakkar said the company strongly believed locally smartphone manufacturing would bring huge pride to the African continent.
"Today is a big dream come true not only for Mara but also for Rwanda and Africa. This is a historic moment helping shift the narrative for the African continent in the true sense that Africans can also produce high-quality global standard products," he said.
"This is manufacturing not assembling," Thakkar added.
Thakkar last year also announced the company's intentions to build an affordable smartphone production facility in South Africa.