During the previous Mobile World Congress that took place in Barcelona in February, a new kid-on-the-block was asserting itself at the dinner table reserved for the big boys; iPhone, Samsung, Huawei, Nokia.
Mara phone, which had been a concept up to then, made its grand entrance even if it had been on the online market for a short while.
One thing participants in the congress were not aware of was that the phone had an African identity; Rwanda, and yesterday the manufacturing factory was officially launched by President Kagame.
What sets the Mara factory apart is that it is not merely an assembly plant; it is a “Made in Rwanda” device with over a thousand components.
Rwanda has been waiting for this day. In the last few years it has invested heavily in human capital, especially in Information Technology. World-renown research universities have opened campuses in Rwanda and every region now has technical and vocational education training centres to ready the necessary manpower.
Mara phone is a personalised phone installed with apps used in Rwanda such as Irembo to access various government services or e-Soko that gives farmers real-time market prices.
But those apps will have little effect if ownership of smartphones lingers around 15 per cent, so the available financing options, where someone can pay for the phone in instalments of up to two years, is a welcome move.
It is encouraging that two banks had already gotten on board with the financing scheme on the day the phone was launched, an indication that they believe that the Made-in-Rwanda Mara phone will unlock many opportunities.
But the new phone company will have to contend with the biased thinking that foreign-manufactured gadgets are better. Mara has to prove it wrong.