First Rwandan smartphone hits market in two months

Mara Corporation CEO, Ashish Thakkar and Managing Director of Kinunu Wonders Ltd. Sonia Kubwimana during the Made in Africa Leadership Conference in Kigali on June 6, 2019. / Craish Bahizi

Locally made smartphones by Mara Corporation will be available on the local and international markets within two months, Ashish Thakkar, the company’s chief executive said on Thursday.

He was speaking at the inaugural Made-in-Africa Leadership Conference in Kigali, which brought together senior executives and business leaders from across the continent.


Thakkar was speaking during a session dubbed, “From trading to legacy-building: Creating lasting products and companies in Africa”.


Among the key issues being discussed at the two-day conference include challenges and opportunities in leading and expanding businesses in Africa, sustainable leadership in SMEs, African leadership in scientific research, financing company growth on the continent, and building a sustainable Pan-African business.


Thakkar said the construction and setting up of the factory, at the Special Economic Zone in Gasabo District, are in the final stages.

“The Mara phones factory in Rwanda will employ at least 200 people from day one, 60 per cent of whom will be women,” he said. “This is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Mara developed a strategy for the next ten years, he said.

The Made-In-Rwanda smartphones are expected to enhance access to digital services and further deepen internet penetration in the country.

The business leader said they will have different models, retailing at varying prices between $100 and $200. He added that some of the phones will be for the Rwandan market while others will be for foreign markets within Africa.

Those designed for other markets elsewhere on the continental, Thakkar said, they will have a Made- in-Africa logo, while those for the local market will bear two logos; Made-in-Rwanda and Made-in-Africa.

Mara Corporation, which owns Banque Populaire du Rwanda (BPR), also has a smartphone factory in South Africa where it invested $100 million, he said.

The smartphones that will soon be manufactured in Rwanda, he said, are “affordable and of high quality.”

Thakkar shared his experience about business growth and expansion, saying he started his first business aged only 15 in 1996.

He told delegates at the meeting that he started out his business with a loan of just $5,000, which he used to start retailing second-hand computers.

His company Mara Corporation has since transformed from a small IT business to a global conglomerate with a presence in 26 African countries and interests across several sectors including technology, manufacturing and financial services.

In 2012, Thakkar was named a young global leader by the World Economic Forum for his success and leadership in driving socio-economic transformation in Africa.

Break Fast Africa Chief Executive Officer, Modupe Taylor-Pearce during the Conference for African CEOs held in Kigali on June 6, 2019. / Craish Bahizi

According to Dr Modupe Taylor-Pearce, the chief executive of Breakfast Club Africa, the organisers of the conference, African business leaders need to develop a sense of urgency for growth so as to reduce the unemployment rate among African youth, currently at 30 per cent.

Attracting more investors in Rwanda

Meanwhile, Rwanda Convention Bureau chief executive Nelly Mukazayire told the business leaders that Rwanda was open for business, urging them to invest in the country. 

Rwanda recorded $2.006 billion in domestic and foreign direct investments last year, surpassing the target by $6 million. This represented 20 per cent more receipts than the $1.675 billion registered in 2017.

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