The Kenyan government says it will roll out the first batch of its locally manufactured smartphones in July.
"Based on feasibility studies undertaken, we can locally assemble smartphones at a unit cost of about $40. We’ve partnered with the private sector to ensure in the next two months, we can roll out our first consignment of low-cost smartphones,” according to Eliud Owalo, the country's ICT cabinet secretary.
Kenya's President, William Ruto first disclosed the country's plan to locally produce smartphones last November. At the time, he said that "in the next eight to twelve months, we will have the cheapest smartphones in Africa produced in Kenya".
President Ruto defines gadgets as the "real last mile of technology". However, the average price of a good 5G-enabled phone in Kenya is around $330, out of reach for more than 80% of Kenya's 54 million population amidst the country's economic challenges.
"We have about 15% of government services on the digital platform. We plan to move 90% of all government services to the digital platform. Within six to 19 months, we will have moved 80% of all services onto the digital platform and ensure that [Kenyans] can access government services from the comfort of their home," says Ruto.
These "manufactured in Kenya" smartphones will ensure that all Kenyans can access digital platforms for personal use, business and accessing government services. "It will be a smartphone that can do everything you want," he assured.
It will also boost smartphone penetration in the country, it currently stands at about 56.3% [pdf], according to the Communications Authority of Kenya. In addition to the smartphones, the government says it will lay around 52% of the 100,000 km of anticipated fibre optic cable; the other 80% will be completed by the private sector. The project's goals include accelerating nationwide internet connectivity and ensuring consistent, dependable access to it.
In 2022, the Kenyan government through the Finance Act 2022[pdf] imposed a 10% excise duty on the importation of cellular phones, including smartphones. Thereby making affordable options like TECNO, Itel and Infinix increase their prices.
In a move to possibly exempt itself from the aforementioned excise duty, HMD Global, manufacturers of Nokia recently disclosed that it will assemble some of its devices in Kenya. Gopher Ogembo, HMD Global’s Senior Business Manager for East Africa says the firm is in various stages of setting up assembly plants in Kenya with its partners.
HMD Global also intends to offer device financing options for customers who want to buy Nokia devices on credit. According to Gopher, Nokia will complete this exercise in partnership with M-KOPA.