Kenya to roll out 1m locally assembled smartphones in 2 months



Kenya to roll out 1m locally assembled smartphones in 2 months


The Ministry of Information, Communications and the Digital Economy Cabinet Secretary, Eliud Owalo gave his remarks at the opening ceremony of the ICT Week 2023 held at the Safari Park Hotel on May 17, 2023. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG

Kenya plans to roll out the first consignment of one million locally assembled smartphones in two months at a unit price of Sh5,484 ($40), in a bid to boost digital access and inclusion.

ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo said the affordability of smart devices is a major barrier to digital inclusion, hence the need to manufacture gadgets locally.

He said the low-cost smartphones are being manufactured at Konza Technopolis in Malili, Machakos County and will be sold at $40 (Sh5,484 at the current exchange rate).

“Based on the feasibility studies conducted, we can locally assemble smartphones for around $40. We have partnered with the private sector to ensure that in the next two months, we can roll out our first shipment of low-cost smartphones,” Mr Owalo said at the official launch of the Information Communication and Technology (ICT) week at the Nairobi Safari Park on Wednesday.

Read: Low smartphone penetration has hit CBK’s digital shilling plan

“We are aware of the crisis in the affordability of smart devices as a potential obstacle to the ability of citizens to use the full potential presented by this sector and we have actively engaged with private and manufacturing stakeholders to produce low-cost smartphone.”

The Business Everyday has sought access to the assembling plant to independently verify operations and gain access to prototypes, but ICT officials have yet to grant the request.

CS also refused to reveal the exact companies that assembled the phones.

CS also did not disclose the companies the government has partnered with. The only companies directly controlled by the state are Telkom and Safaricom.

If the deal goes as planned, then the State will find a way to revive the hope of the Konza City dream that failed to attract enough investors to support its take off.

In 2013, 14 companies expressed interest in the first phase of the Konza City project, dubbed the African Silicon Savannah, which is scheduled to be implemented in four phases of five years each.

These companies include Safaricom and Wananchi Online- a Kenyan internet service provider.

The foreign companies are Chinese firm Huawei Technologies, Korean electronics giant Samsung and Telemac of the US among others.

Attempts to contact the Principal Secretary for Telecommunication Prof Edward Kisiang’ani to respond to our questions on the companies behind the local assembly of smartphones failed.

In March 2022, Kenya signed a three-year agreement, dubbed the Economic Innovation Partnership Program, with the Korean government to fast-track the realization of the Konza City dream.

Official data from the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) shows that the penetration of feature phones or non-smartphones is 68.1 percent by the end of December 2022.

Smartphone penetration in the country is at 60.2 percent.

“The number of mobile subscriptions increased from 65.5 million reported in the previous quarter to 65.7 million in the reference period, representing a penetration rate of 133.1 percent,” CAK said in its latest quarterly report.

The low use of smartphones, Mr Owalo said, has hindered the use of other government and financial services.

The government also plans to accelerate digital inclusion through the initial 5,000km of the planned 100,000km of fiber optic cable in June this year, a project partially funded by the World Bank.

The CS said Sh68.5 billion ($500m) from the World Bank is for digital inclusion for fiber connection across the country.

“We have received $500 million from the World Bank towards the digital transformation agenda, under the Kenya digital economy acceleration programme,” said Mr Owalo.

“We have a target to roll out 5000km of optic fiber by June 30. We have on board contractors and engaged with other government agencies including Kenya Power and Lighting Company, Kenya Pipeline Company, Kenya Railways Corporation, Kenya Electricity Transmission Company and we’re good to go.”

Read: Mobile phone sales rose 6pc in defiance of the excise tax

Under the infrastructure pillar of the country’s digital transformation agenda, the five-year plan to lay an additional 100,000km of national fiber optic cable was first announced by President Ruto in October last year, a month after he assumed office.

About 52 percent of the proposed 100,000km of optic cable will be laid by the government while the rest will be done by the private sector.

The project aims to speed up internet connectivity throughout the country, as well as make its access stable and reliable.

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