Mara Phones has officially opened two new production facilities in Africa with the high-profile unveiling of factories in Kigali, Rwanda, and Durban, South Africa.  

In early October, Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, cut the ribbon at what was billed as ‘Africa’s first high-tech smartphone factory’, in Kigali Special Economic Zone in the Rwandan capital. And in mid-October, South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, officially opened Mara Phones South Africa at Dube Trade Port, La Mercy, Durban.

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The $100m factory in Rwanda will serve eastern and central Africa, and parts of north Africa, while the $100m South African facility will focus on southern Africa, although both factories will also be exporting globally.

"Speaking at the Rwandan opening, Ashish J Thakkar, CEO of Mara Phones, said it was a “dream come true” for Rwanda and for Africa. “We realised a few years ago that to create a true positive social impact on our continent, and in emerging markets in general, we needed to have high-quality and affordable smartphones," he added. "In Africa, we don’t manufacture anything. We assemble in a few countries here and there, but we don’t manufacture. We’re a true consumer, but not a producer. So that’s when we came up with a plan of Mara Phones.” 

Made in Africa

Mara Phones' Made in Africa strategy has been welcomed by the two countries' leaders. 

Speaking at the Rwanda factory opening, Mr Kagame said: “This is the path Rwanda has chosen for our development. The investment by Mara Phones Group is therefore in perfect harmony with our focus on science and technology as the key drivers of our economic transformation.”

At the unveiling in South Africa, Mr Ramaphosa said: “In my State of the Nation address, I emphasised that special economic zones are important instruments for attracting foreign and domestic investment, building targeted industrial capabilities and establishing new industrial hubs…We must appreciate the potential that we have as a continent, exploit our competitive advantage, improve our bargaining position with international investors, and steadily turn the tide through our commitment to import substitution.”

A local focus

“Governments in both locations were very supportive in us setting up the plants,” Mr Thakkar told fDi in a statement. “Our South Africa and Rwanda factories both have great infrastructure and are close to airports, making them logistically ideal. Governments in both locations provided introductions to useful contacts, assisting with business connections and enabling a positive environment to start the project.”

“We have been working on the continent for more than two decades, and the decision to locate the factories in these locations fits well with our wider strategy to enable us to work across and reach many countries on the continent… There is a great pool of local talent in both Kigali and Durban, which was also an important factor when looking at investment locations.”

Mara Phones says that its investment in South Africa – with the support of the country’s government – has already created almost 200 jobs, with more than 60% of these employees women. Over the next six years, Mara Phones South Africa is projected to generate about 1500 direct jobs as well as thousands of indirect jobs. 

The two factories are now in full swing producing the Google Android-based Mara X and Mara Z smartphones.