Chinese company to support production of Uganda-made smartphones

Photo: Asoko Insight

East African press outlets are reporting that Uganda is to begin manufacturing its first smartphones. The manufacturing partner will be Chinese brand SIMI.

The phones will be built to ensure long battery life, like SIMI’s existing feature phones, although the feature phones can apparently last up to at least two weeks and be charged using solar power. The smartphones, by contrast, are expected to have a battery capacity of at least two days.

SIMI claims it has the capacity to make 2,000 phones a day and will involve university students in the development of apps and software for the handsets.

While this may not be welcome news for competing manufacturers, they will probably be even less impressed with moves to slap a new 10 percent tax on all internationally imported smartphones. Up to five million phones a year are imported into Uganda untaxed, though it’s not clear how many are smartphones. The aim is to limit the importation of handsets and increase the purchase of smartphones being manufactured locally.

The government appears to be set on giving incentives and priority to firms that produce products or components such as computers and smartphones, according to press reports, which go on to suggest that the tax may eventually go as high as 25 percent. 

Budget phone maker SIMI Mobile, which began business in Ethiopia in 2013, has enjoyed a steady growth in the Africa market, where feature phones still dominate.

SIMI's nearly two-dozen feature phone handsets are priced between $10 and $20, while its smartphones are mostly sold below $50 and are already on sale in Ethiopia, Cameroon, and soon Uganda, with more African countries likely to follow.

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