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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 by Lana Haroun

From #FeesMustFall to #BlueforSudan: OkayAfrica's Guide to a Decade of African Hashtag Activism

The 2010s saw protest movements across the continent embrace social media in their quest to make change.

The Internet and its persistent, attention-seeking child, Social Media has changed the way we live, think and interact on a daily basis. But as this decade comes to a close, we want to highlight the ways in which people have merged digital technology, social media and ingenuity to fight for change using one of the world's newest and most potent devices—the hashtag.

What used to simply be the "pound sign," the beginning of a tic-tac-toe game or what you'd have to enter when interacting with an automated telephone service, the hashtag has become a vital aspect of the digital sphere operating with both form and function. What began in 2007 as a metadata tag used to categorize and group content on social media, the term 'hashtag' has now grown to refer to memes (#GeraraHere), movements (#AmINext), events (#InsertFriendsWeddingHere) and is often used in everyday conversation ("That situation was hashtag awkward").

The power of the hashtag in the mobility of people and ideas truly came to light during the #ArabSpring, which began one year into the new decade. As Tunisia kicked off a revolution against oppressive regimes that spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook played a crucial role in the development and progress of the movements. The hashtag, however, helped for activists, journalists and supporters of causes. It not only helped to source information quickly, but it also acted as a way to create a motto, a war cry, that could spread farther and faster than protestors own voices and faster than a broadcasted news cycle. As The Guardian wrote in 2016, "At times during 2011, the term Arab Spring became interchangeable with 'Twitter uprising' or 'Facebook revolution,' as global media tried to make sense of what was going on."

From there, the hashtag grew to be omnipresent in modern society. It has given us global news, as well as strong comedic relief and continues to play a crucial role in our lives. As the decade comes to a close, here are some of the most impactful hashtags from Africans and for Africans that used the medium well.

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Screenshot from the upcoming film Warriors of a Beautiful Game

In Conversation: Pelé's Daughter is Making a Documentary About Women's Soccer Around the World

In this exclusive interview, Kely Nascimento-DeLuca shares the story behind filming Warriors of a Beautiful Game in Tanzania, Brazil and other countries.

It may surprise you to know that women's soccer was illegal in Brazil until 1981. And in the UK until 1971. And in Germany until 1970. You may have read that Sudan made its first-ever women's league earlier this year. Whatever the case, women and soccer have always had a rocky relationship.

It wasn't what women wanted. It certainly wasn't what they needed. However, society had its own ideas and placed obstacle after obstacle in front of women to keep ladies from playing the game. Just this year the US national team has shown the world that women can be international champions in the sport and not get paid fairly compared to their male counterparts who lose.

Kely Nascimento-DeLuca is looking to change that. As the daughter of international soccer legend Pelé, she is no stranger to the game. Growing up surrounded by the sport, she was actually unaware of the experiences women around the world were having with it. It was only recently that she discovered the hardships around women in soccer and how much it mirrored women's rights more generally.

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