Locally assembled phones key to Kenya digital inclusion

Dilip Pal, Safaricom Chief Finance Officer.

October 30 this year marked a turning point in Kenya’s digital transformation journey. The launch of East Africa Device Assembly Kenya Ltd (EADAK) - a joint venture of local mobile network operators and international device manufacturers - the first-of-its-kind in East Africa, heralds a new era of possibilities and opportunities for the nation.

The EADAK’s commissioning by President William Ruto is a remarkable stride in the country’s journey to harness the power of technology to improve the lives of citizens and boost economic development.

Indeed, the significance of EADAK extends beyond the creation of jobs and economic growth. It represents a step towards a more empowered digital population with the capacity to explore opportunities.

Admittedly, the cost of affordable 4 G-enabled smartphone devices has for a long time remained prohibitive for many. As a result, it constitutes a significant barrier to universal inclusion and access to various services and opportunities that are intended to be freely available to all.

For instance, more than 60 per cent of the mobile phone devices in Kenya are basic phones - mostly 2G mobile devices. The prioritisation of local production of affordable smart digital devices will thus guarantee the possibility of universal digital access for Kenyans to enjoy better services and opportunities in both the public and private sectors.

This is because the provision of affordable digital smart devices is no longer just about mobile telephony and fintech penetration. It is also about universal access to private and public sector goods and services as the driver of national transformation.

For instance, EADAK’s two inaugural affordable mobile phone devices comprising Neon 5” “Smarta” and 6½” “Ultra” devices are designed with tailored functions. They are pre-installed with some of the locally useful applications such as e-Citizen - a key digital entry point for accessing government services more conveniently and affordably.

Even away from Kenya, on the global stage, we’ve witnessed the transformational power of locally assembled affordable devices in economic giants like India.

Producing affordable smartphones and tablets locally allowed a larger segment of the Indian population to own smartphones, promoting digital inclusion and literacy.

Kenya’s foray into local device assembly is a reflection of a similar vision. A crucial aspect of the local assembly process is the introduction of affordable devices.

Locally assembled devices are often budget-friendly due to reduced import costs and taxes, making them more accessible to the average Kenyan.

The ripple effect is that this will drive greater internet penetration across the country - fostering economic inclusion by empowering individuals to participate in the digital economy - whether through online businesses, e-learning, or remote work opportunities.  

Again, looking at India’s example, you find that smartphone assembly grew digital inclusion and generated job opportunities consequently contributing to India’s rise as the world’s second-largest mobile phone producer. With the commissioning of EADAK, we can anticipate a similar outcome, especially in boosting our manufacturing sector supported by investment in research and development, and the creation of policies that nurture the tech ecosystem.

Furthermore, local device assembly can serve as a catalyst for digital innovation and entrepreneurship. The local tech community can thrive with opportunities to collaborate, experiment, and create new solutions tailored to local needs.

This will be a boon for Kenya’s burgeoning tech industry, fostering the development of a broader tech ecosystem.

The benefits don’t stop at affordable devices alone. A surge in local device assembly will lead to a reduction in the importation of fully assembled devices, which account for a significant portion of Kenya’s import bill.

This is an important economic consideration. The decrease in imports will aid in stabilising Kenya’s balance of payments, and the money saved can be channelled into other areas of development.

The multifaceted benefits of EADAK thus resonate well with Kenya’s Vision 2030, which seeks to harness science, technology, and innovation for socio-economic development.

As Kenya enters this exciting era of affordable smartphone device assembly, and as EADAK’s locally assembled smartphones begin to make their way into the hands of Kenyan citizens, it’s imperative that all stakeholders, including the government, and the private sector work in unison to support and deepen a culture of digital enterprise, research, and development.

This collaborative effort is vital in bringing to life the vision of Africa’s Silicon Savanna, and power the actualisation of Kenya’s development agenda.

The writer is the Chief Financial Officer at Safaricom