Safaricom’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Stephen Kiptiness said that the three-member consortium is at an advanced stage of setting up the assembly plant, which is key to implementing President William Ruto’s plan to produce Africa’s cheapest smartphones locally.
“The consortium is closing out the loose ends around the investment. It is my understanding that the manufacturing should start within the next two months. Once the manufacturing process starts, then it is a matter of time. I don’t think it will take six months for the final product to reach the retail level,” said Mr Kiptiness.
The Chinese firm, which has a scanty online presence, is a subsidiary of Tinko Group which is involved in the manufacturing, production and sale of alkaline, carbon, and rechargeable batteries.
On its website’s ‘About’ page, Shenzhen Tinko describes itself as one of the earliest tech enterprises engaged in battery production in China.
“Plans are at an advanced stage to set up the assembly unit. As far as I understand, the assembly units are in the country or almost getting into the country for purposes of the actual physical set up of the manufacturing plant,” Mr Kiptiness said.
He was speaking on the sidelines of Safaricom’s launch of ‘Gomoka na Go Monthly’, a three-month promotion that will see customers win cash and data bundle prizes on the purchase of daily and monthly data plans. The smartphone factory is set to be domiciled within the Konza Technopolis in Malili, Machakos County.
Mr Kiptiness said the consortium has been put together by the government as it seeks to actualise its undertaking to manufacture affordable smartphones and revolutionise the country’s digital economy.
Dr Ruto revealed the plan for the production of smartphones locally in December last year, saying the cost of the gadgets would be less than $40 (Sh5,604, at the current exchange rate). But Mr Kiptiness said the government was working with the consortium to see how the price can be lowered further.
“The sweet spot is probably between $40 and $50 (Sh7,006). If it can come lower the better, but let’s wait and see what happens at the tail end of the manufacturing and once the phones hit the market because there’s a lot of work the government is doing along with the consortium to create a product that will be affordable when it comes to the retail space,” he stated.
Last month, Safaricom Head of Venture Karanja Gichiri appeared before a parliamentary committee and put up a spirited fight against new taxes contained in the Finance Bill, 2023, arguing that it would be impossible to achieve the proposed price as the taxation regime would raise the cost of locally assembled smartphones to Sh11,500. MPs extended duty-free imports of raw materials to assemble smartphones but kept the rest of the taxes.
Dr Ruto had set an ambitious timeline to deliver the cheap smartphone promise within eight to 12 months of this year. If it succeeds, the project would be a game changer in enhancing smartphone penetration rates in a country whose feature phone usage marginally outweighs smart device adoption.
In its sector statistics report for the quarter ending December last year, the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) stated that there were a total of 63.4 million mobile phones in the country out of which 33.6 million or 53.1 percent were feature phones while 29.7 million (46.9 percent) were smartphones.
“This trend indicates an increasing demand and uptake of smartphones mainly driven by demand for broadband-enabled services and accessibility to the devices,” said the CA in the report.
ICT Cabinet secretary Eliud Owalo has in the past cited the low uptake of smartphones as a hindrance to the uptake of a range of government and financial services.