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Rwanda's Kagame bemoans country's low smartphone penetration rate

Rwanda , 15 Oct 2019

Rwanda's Kagame bemoans country's low smartphone penetration rate

Rwanda President Paul Kagame has bemoaned the country's low smartphone penetration rate and said more will be done to address the issues of cost and quality.

In April 2019, the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) said the country's internet penetration increased to 52.1% at the end of 2018, but the proportion of mobile subscribers using smartphones is reportedly much less - about 15% according to Kagame.

The proliferation of low-cost devices in the market has been cited as a key influence.

In October 2019 Rwanda's Mara Group made headlines after launching two smartphones, the Mara X and Mara Z, that use Google's Android operating system and reportedly cost US$190 and US$130 respectively.

Speaking at the launch of the new devices, Kagame said: "We want to enable many more Rwandans to have smartphones and this is why dealing with the cost and quality. We are dealing with the obstacles through what Mara has established in Rwanda."

He said that in addition to the warranty, Rwandans can also pay for smartphones in instalments over a period of two years.

"In Rwanda, we have the Irembo which is already the citizens' primary gateway for many public services and integration of Irembo into Mara phones is an innovative feature," Kagame added.

"The private sector is the engine of the progress we desire for our continent. We must aim to compete regionally and globally at the high-end of the technology spectrum. With Mara, we will work to ensure that Mara Group's investment is commercially successful which is also to our benefit."

While smartphone factories are operating in several African countries, including South Africa, Algeria, Egypt and Ethiopia, Mara's factory in Rwanda claims to be the first to manufacture the components as other factories are assembling plants.

This is attributed to the complications of manufacturing the various components locally.

"Producing smartphones is not a simple matter, around one thousand individual components are involved. The Mara phone plant is therefore a complex manufacturing operation requiring significant skills and expertise," Kagame said.

Mara phones will compete against Tecno and Samsung that are priced at between US$40 and US$70 for popular basic models.

However, Mara is hoping its partnership with local banks and telecommunications firms will enable users to pay for devices on terms and thereby attract new subscribers.

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