Countries like India and CEOs like Sundar Pichai attest to the democratizing power of technology. Mobile internet technology, in particular, has changed the face of business across the globe, creating access and opportunities where before there were none.
Rwanda, whose economy has, in recent years, expanded at an impressive 8.6% (with inflation remaining low at 1%), has now opened its doors to Mara Phones, a subsidiary of the Mara Group.
In October 2019, Mara Phones set up the first entirely homemade smartphone factory in Africa. Eddy Sebera, the company’s country manager told CNN, “The entire manufacturing process, from the motherboard all the way to the packaging of the phone is done in our newly-opened factory.”
The company launched two smartphones: the $130 Mara X with 16GB storage, and the more advanced $190 Mara Z model with 32GB storage. The phones boast of a long-lasting battery and a two-year Android version update.
In order to ensure accessibility, the company — in addition to its low prices — has also tied up with banks and telecommunication firms to offer customers a finance model that will allow them to pay for the device in instalments that are spread over two years.
The affordability of the phones is likely to aide the Rwandan government’s ambitious plan to achieve 100% digital literacy among the youth by 2024.
In 2018, Rwanda’s internet penetration was nearly 48%. The introduction of affordable smartphones — like Mara’s — is expected to further propel this number.
With this ease of access will come an abundance of opportunities.
Mobile technology in rural areas is likely to translate into financial inclusion of those who have been left behind by traditional banks and financial institutions. It is also likely to open up sectors like health, telesales and education, offering the population products and services that have been out of their reach due to affordability or poor infrastructure. Access to these services and sectors are crucial to the growth of the country.
Mobile technology will also empower farmers, entrepreneurs and local businesses, helping them overcome the physical barriers of geography to reach out to newer markets. Already, apps like e-soko, which cut out the middle-men and help farmers save costs, are popular in rural areas.
The setting up of the Mara factory alone has boosted the local economy, as the company employed 200 employees, of which 90% were Rwandans and 60% were women. The country’s ICT Minister, Paula Ingabire hopes that the plant will play a greater role in creating jobs and developing skills by hiring and training professionals for higher-skilled manufacturing jobs.
While greater mobile and internet penetration means accelerated growth and development of the economy, it also means global access to the otherwise untapped Rwandan market. Foreign app developers and MNCs are already setting their eyes on the country, as are investors from across the world. The World Bank too has drawn attention to the favourable climate for foreign investment in Rwanda. In recent years, the country has implemented laws and policies that make it easier — and cheaper — to set up a new business.
India has already acknowledged the investment potential of Rwanda and, as early as 2012, had invested 200 million in the country’s ICT sector. In 2018, Modi became the first Indian prime minister to visit Rwanda, laying the ground for partnerships between the two countries in the sectors of health, tourism and agriculture.
All signs point to Rwanda becoming a formidable regional hub for innovation and a country to watch out for in the coming years.