ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo said the affordability of smart devices has been a major hindrance to digital inclusion, hence the need to produce the gadgets locally.
He said the low-cost smartphones are being assembled at the Konza Technopolis in Malili, Machakos County and will retail at $40 (Sh5,484 at the current exchange rate).
“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,” said Mr Owalo during the official launch of the Information Communication and Technology (ICT) week at the Nairobi Safari Park on Wednesday.
“We are aware of the affordability crisis of smart devices as a potential hindrance to the ability of citizens to tap the full potential that this sector presents and we have actively engaged stakeholders in private and manufacturing to produce low-cost smartphones.”
The CS also declined to reveal the exact firms assembling the phones. The CS also did not disclose the companies the government has partnered with. The only firms the state has direct control of are Telkom and Safaricom. If the deal goes as planned, then the State will have found a way to rekindle hopes in the Konza City dream which has failed to attract enough investors to support its take-off.
In 2013, 14 firms expressed interest in the first stage of the Konza City project, dubbed the African Silicon Savannah, which was set to be carried out in four phases of five years each. These firms included Safaricom and Wananchi Online- a Kenyan internet service provider. Foreign companies were Chinese firm Huawei Technologies, Korean electronics giant Samsung and Telemac of the US among others.
Attempts to reach the Principal Secretary for Telecommunication Prof Edward Kisiang’ani to respond to our questions on the firms behind the local assembly of smartphones failed. In March 2022, Kenya inked a three-year deal, dubbed the Economic Innovation Partnership Program, with the Korean government to fast-track the actualisation of the Konza City dream.
Official data from the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) show that penetration of feature phones or non-smartphones is 68.1 percent as of the end of December 2022. Smartphone penetration in the country stands at 60.2 per cent.
“The number of mobile subscriptions increased from 65.5 million reported last quarter to 65.7 million during the reference period, representing a penetration rate of 133.1 percent,” said CAK in the latest quarterly report.
The low uptake of smartphones, Mr Owalo said, has hindered the uptake of other government and financial services. The government also plans to accelerate digital inclusion through an initial 5,000km of the planned 100,000km of fibre optic cable by June this year, a project partially funded by the World Bank. The CS said Sh68.5 billion ($500m) from the World Bank is meant for digital inclusion for fibre 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 of rolling out 5000km of optic fibre by June 30. We have onboarded contractors and reached out to other government agencies including the Kenya Power and Lighting Company, Kenya Pipeline Company, Kenya Railways Corporation, Kenya Electricity Transmission Company and we’re good to go.”
Under the infrastructure pillar of the country’s digital transformation agenda, the five-year plan to lay an additional 100,000km of the national fibre optic cable was first announced by President Ruto in October last year, a month after he assumed office.
Some 52 per cent of the proposed 100,000km of the optic cable will be laid by the government while the rest will be done by the private sector.
The project is aimed at hastening internet connectivity across the country, as well as making its access stable and reliable.