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Kenya to launch $40 Smartphones on October 30th, CS Owalo announces at MWC Kigali

In a significant move to bolster digital inclusion and accessibility, Kenya’s ICT Cabinet Secretary, Eliud Owalo, announced the forthcoming launch of $40 smartphones in Kenya at the Mobile World Congress in Kigali, Rwanda. The initiative, revealed during the Policy Leaders Forum, is a result of the Kenyan government’s partnership with undisclosed phone manufacturers for local assembly. The first $40 smartphones are expected from October 30th 2023.

The manufacturing plant, CS Owalo said, is projected to produce an estimated 210,000 units monthly. This initiative is part of a broader strategy to foster innovation and reduce production costs, rather than merely subsidizing consumption, as per Owalo. “We are subsidizing production and investing in research and innovation,” he emphasized, underscoring the government’s commitment to driving down costs through ingenuity and efficient production methods.

In line with its digital transformation agenda, the Kenyan government is also rolling out an ambitious project to extend fiber connectivity by 100,000 km to previously unconnected regions. This development complements the government’s digital literacy program, which has successfully trained over 300,000 youths in digital services within the past ten months.

Moreover, in a massive digital overhaul, the Kenyan government, CS Owalo said, has digitized 10,382 public records and services, streamlining access and efficiency in public service delivery.

However, the forum panel also hosted slightly differing viewpoints on the path to digital accessibility. ZTE’s Senior Vice President, Darren Zhao, highlighted the importance of not just pursuing affordability but also ensuring quality and usability in smartphones to attract the youth demographic. Zhao said he advocates for sustainable local manufacturing, emphasizing the need for actual transfer of technology knowledge, workforce training, and infrastructure development as pivotal to this process. Not just slapping of stickers and branding of boxes.

Local manufacturing should be a long-term commitment, not a short-term arrangement. It’s about real numbers with long-term growth, Zhao stated, signaling a need for strategic partnerships that promise mutual, enduring growth.

The forum, co-hosted by the Rwandan government and the Africa Telecommunications Union, witnessed robust participation from industry leaders, with Safaricom, Helios Towers, and AXIAN Telecom as the gold sponsors.

The announcement signals a pivotal moment for Kenya’s tech industry and its citizens, potentially setting a precedent for affordable technological access and digital literacy in the African market.

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