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Rwanda Unleashes First Smartphones Made Entirely in Africa

The Mara Group has opened a new plant in Kigali to manufacture two smartphones, the Mara X and Mara Z.

The next cellphone in your pocket may be devoid of that ubiquitous "Made in China" lettering, opting instead for "Made in Rwanda," as the first-ever smartphone manufacturing plant opened in Kigali yesterday. The plant was launched by the Mara Group and will manufacture two smartphones, the Mara X and Mara Z.


The phones will be built on Android operating systems and are meant to compete with the likes of Samsung and Tecno—the current frontrunners of the African smartphone market. The phones will cost 175,750 Rwandan francs for the X model (about $190) and 120,250 Rwandan francs for the Z (about $130), Reuters reports. It's a lot steeper than what the competitors are offering, with smartphones available at prices as low as 35,000-50,000 Rwandan francs ($37-$54), but the CEO of Mara Group, Ashish Thakkar, says that they are targeting customers who would like a higher quality of smartphone. They have also made a partnership with local banks and firms that will allow consumers to pay for their phone over two years.

Thakkar says the presence of this plant is a step in the right direction for all of Africa to be present in technological and digital innovation and manufacturing, adding that while many companies assemble parts in African countries, they import the components from outside countries. "We are actually the first who are doing manufacturing. We are making the motherboards, we are making the sub-boards during the entire process," Thakkar said.

As Africa Business Magazine quotes him:

"In Africa, we don't manufacture anything. We assemble in a few countries, but we don't manufacture anything. We are the consumers but not the producers. Our true belief in Africa, particularly Rwanda, is a dream come true. This is a historic moment which will help shift the narrative for Rwanda, Africa and the rest of the world."

The plant cost $24 million to build and will employ over 200 workers, making up to 1,200 phones per day, according to Africa Business Magazine. The hope is to improve the accessibility, and perhaps pride, in cell phones across Rwanda where smartphone use is currently at 15%. Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, who was present for the opening of the plant, had this to say about the intentions of the plant and the opportunity he hopes it holds for Rwandans: "The smartphone is no longer a luxury item, it is rapidly becoming a requirement of everyday life. The cost and quality is very important and the introduction of Mara Phones will put smartphone ownership within reach of more Rwandans."

Soon, Rwanda will not be the only African nation manufacturing smartphones locally, as Mara Group has announced that a second manufacturing plant will open in South Africa next week on October 17th.

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This Official is on Trial for His Alleged Role in the Rwandan Genocide

71-year-old Fabien Neretse has been charged with 13 murders which took place between April and July of 1994.

Seventy-one-year-old Fabien Neretse, a former senior Rwandan official, appeared in a Brussels court in Belgium yesterday. He is currently on trial for his alleged involvement in 13 murders which occurred during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. According to News24, this is the first time a Belgian case has explicitly charged Neretse with genocide.

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Photo courtesy of MASS Design Group.

The African Design Center is Birthing a New Generation of African Architects and Designers

In this interview, Rwandan architect and designer, Christian Benimana, says that the 'African city' does not exist and suggests that the continent look to urbanizing without necessarily creating cities.

When Christian Benimana left Rwanda to study architecture in China in the early 2000s, he inadvertently bore witness to one of the world's biggest building booms. During that time, China underwent one of the most rapid urbanization in the history of the earth. But behind the glittering skyscrapers and brand new urban neighborhoods, says Benimana, in a TED Talk from last year, is a much darker story. "Behind these facades was the exploitation of huge numbers of migrant workers and the massive displacement of thousands of people that made these projects possible. As countries in Africa undergo massive rates of urbanization, it's these lessons in city building from his time in China that come to the front.

Benimana is the principal at MASS Design Group in Rwanda, a firm that has carried out architectural projects in Rwanda and broader Africa over the past 10 years. He has become the lead in implementing the African Design Center.

The African Design Center, the project-based apprenticeship established by the MASS Design Group, is committed to a more sustainable model of architecture. The ultimate goal is to begin a movement of young and inspired people who will completely upend what we have come to know as conventional architecture. By incubating talent and redesigning curriculums, the Africa Design Center is attempting to envision what development in Africa needs to start looking like outside of the Western conceptions of development being imposed on the continent. Schools are a particular focus for the center as it challenges what schools should look like and how their architecture goes hand-in-hand with the education African children receive.

We caught up with Benimana to talk more about the African Design Center's ambitious vision and his own personal views on the state of cities on the continent right now.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Photo courtesy of CSA Global.

In Conversation with Congolese NBA Player Emmanuel Mudiay: 'I want more African players in the NBA.'

The Utah Jazz player talks about being African in the NBA, supporting basketball in the DRC and how 'everybody knows about Burna Boy'.

Inspired by his basketball-playing older brothers, by second grade, Emmanuel Mudiay already knew that he wanted to play in the American National Basketball Association. Then in 2001 his family, fleeing the war in Democratic Republic of Congo, sought asylum in the United States.

In America, Mudiay saw basketball as a way for him to improve his situation. After impressive high school and college careers, he moved to China to play pro ball. Picked 7th overall in the 2015 NBA draft, the now 23-year-old guard has made a name for himself this season coming off the bench for the Utah Jazz.

Mudiay attests to the sport having changed not only his life but that of his siblings. Basketball gave them all a chance at a good education and the opportunity to dream without conditions. Now he wants to see other talented African players make it too.

We caught up with him to talk about his experience as an African player in the NBA, his hopes for basketball on the African continent and who he and his teammates jam out to in their locker rooms.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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University lecturer and activist Doctor Stella Nyanzi (L) reacts in court as she attends a trial to face charges for cyber-harassment and offensives communication, in Kampala, on April 10, 2017. (Photo by GAEL GRILHOT/AFP via Getty Images)

Jailed Ugandan Activist, Stella Nyanzi, Wins PEN Prize for Freedom of Expression

The outspoken activist, who is currently serving a prison sentence for a poem she wrote about the president's mother's vagina, won for her resistance "in front of a regime that is trying to suppress her."

Stella Nyanzi, the Ugandan academic, activist, and vocal critic of President Yoweri Museveni has been awarded the 2020 Oxfam Novib/PEN International award for freedom of expression, given to writers who "continue to work for freedom of expression in the face of persecution."

Nyanzi is currently serving a 15 month sentence for "cyber harassment" after she published a poem in which she wrote that she wished "the acidic pus flooding Esiteri's (the president's mother) vaginal canal had burn up your unborn fetus. Burn you up as badly as you have corroded all morality and professionalism out of our public institutions in Uganda."

According to the director of PEN International, Carles Torner, her unfiltered outspokenness around the issues facing her country is what earned her the award. "For her, writing is a permanent form of resistance in front of a regime that is trying to suppress her," said Torner at the award ceremony.

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