While many parts of the world make significant strides in digital inclusion, Africa still grapples with accessibility challenges. The digital divide, marked by access and usage disparities in digital technologies, persists across the continent, impacting socio-economic progress. In addition to limited high-speed internet access, many African communities lack reliable electricity and basic connectivity.
Kenya has inaugurated its first smartphone assembly plant to produce affordable 4G-enabled mobile phones, Neon 5 ‘Smarta’ and 6 ½ ‘Ultra’, tailored to Kenyan consumer needs. In May, the Kenyan government announced the release of the first batch of one million locally assembled smartphones in July, with a competitive price of $40 (equivalent to Ksh 5,506).
However, the devices’ retail price starts at KSh 7,499 ($49.81), and they will be available nationwide at Faiba stores, dealer stores, Safaricom stores, and the Masoko online platform.
Despite the widespread adoption of mobile phones, smartphone penetration in Africa remains relatively low due to economic, infrastructural, and cultural factors. High smartphone costs and data plans hinder adoption. In 2023, the mobile economy report indicates a 43% penetration rate of unique mobile subscribers and 25% for mobile internet users.
In 2021, the global smartphone market was valued at $457.18 billion, with expectations of reaching $792.51 billion by 2029. However, Africa’s presence in this industry is limited as most manufacturing occurs elsewhere.
Recent efforts by African countries like South Africa, Rwanda, and Egypt aim to enhance their domestic mobile phone manufacturing capabilities. Airtel Rwanda introduced a $16.50 smartphone in October, touted as Rwanda’s cheapest 4G smartphone. In 2020, Orange and Google jointly launched a $30 smartphone for various markets, including Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, and Madagascar. In 2019, MTN partnered with South African phone manufacturer Mobicel to distribute a $20 smartphone across Africa.
Inadequate infrastructure is another challenge for mobile penetration in Africa. Rural areas often lack reliable internet connectivity and electricity, hindering smartphone adoption and access to online services.
Accelerating smartphone adoption and enhancing digital inclusion in Africa involves creating an ecosystem that empowers individuals, businesses, and communities. Ensuring domestically produced smartphones meet global quality standards and offering competitive prices is essential. Incorporating indigenous languages as optional operating languages can make the product more valuable and drive consumer interest and support.