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Affordable smartphones: Kenya’s tool to boost digital inclusion

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The inexpensive smartphones are assembled in the Konza Technopolis in Malili, Machakos County

To promote digital access and inclusivity, Kenya plans to roll out the first consignment of one million domestically built smartphones in two months at a unit retail price of Ksh5,484 (USD 40).

Eliud Owalo, the ICT Cabinet Secretary, claimed that the cost of smart devices had been a significant barrier to digital inclusion, necessitating local production.

The official also stated that the inexpensive smartphones are assembled in the Konza Technopolis in Malili, Machakos County.

“According to feasibility tests conducted, we can locally create smartphones for roughly USD 40 per unit. We’ve engaged with the business sector to ensure we can release our first shipment of inexpensive cellphones in the next two months,” Owalo said at the Nairobi Safari Park during the official opening of the Information, Communication, and Technology (ICT) week.

To manufacture low-cost smartphones, the official continued, “We have actively engaged players in the private sector. However, we are conscious of the affordability dilemma of smart devices as a potential obstacle to the ability of citizens to exploit the full potential that this sector brings.”

The CS also refused to disclose which specific companies were assembling the phones.

Additionally, the ICT Cabinet Secretary omitted to list the businesses the government has worked with. Telkom and Safaricom are the two companies that the state has direct control over.

If everything goes according to plan, the state will have revived interest in Konza City, which has struggled to attract enough investors to sustain its takeoff.

The African Silicon Savannah, the first phase of the Konza City project, which was to be completed in four parts over five years, attracted interest from 14 companies in 2013.

These businesses included Safaricom and the Kenyan internet service company Wananchi Online.

Among other foreign firms were US-based Telemac, the Chinese company Huawei Technologies, and the Korean electronics behemoth Samsung.

Kenyan and the Korean governments signed a three-year agreement known as the ‘Economic Innovation Partnership Program’ in March 2022 to hasten the realization of the Konza City vision.

As of the end of December 2022, the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) reported that the penetration of feature phones, or non-smartphones, was 68.1%.

In this nation, 60.2% of people have smartphones. CAK’s most recent quarterly report states, “The number of mobile subscriptions climbed from 65.5 million reported last quarter to 65.7 million during the reference period, showing a penetration rate of 133.1%.”

According to Owalo, the slow adoption of smartphones has hampered the use of other banking and government services.

The state also intends to hasten digital inclusion by installing the first 5,000 km of the 100,000 km of fibre optic cable by June 2023, a project that will get partial funding from the World Bank.

The CS stated that Ksh68.55 billion (USD 500 million) in funding from the World Bank is intended for nationwide fibre connections for digital inclusion.

“According to the World Bank’s Kenya Digital Economy Acceleration Program, we have received USD 500 million for the digital transformation agenda. By June 30, we hope to have installed 5000 km of fibre optic cable,” he continued, “we’ll be ready to go once we’ve brought on contractors and contacted other government organizations, including the Kenya Power and Lighting Company, Kenya Pipeline Company, Kenya Railways Corporation, and Kenya Electricity Transmission Company.”

President Ruto announced the five-year plan to lay an extra 100,000 km of the national fibre optic cable in October 2022, a month after he took office, as part of the infrastructure pillar of the country’s digital transformation goal.

The government will lay about 52% of the 100,000 kilometres of anticipated fibre optic cable, with the private sector handling the remaining 42%.

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