Uganda starts exporting mobile phones

By David Rupiny

The State Minister for Investment and Privatization, Evelyne Anite, has today flagged off a consignment of 18,000 pieces of Made-in-Uganda mobile phones being exported to the North African country of Morocco.

The mobile phones, both smartphones and feature phones, are manufactured by Engo Holdings Group Limited, trading as Simi Mobile Uganda. It is an ICT manufacturing concern based at Uganda Investment Authority-operated Kampala Industrial and Business Park in Namanve.

Workers loading Simi mobile phones for export to Morocco. (David Rupiny)

Speaking at the flagging off ceremony at the manufacturing plant, Minister Anite, while waving the export documents, declared that “these mobile phones are destined for Morocco and not Kikuubo”. Kikuubo is a busy trading hub in downtown Kampala.

Anite said when Simi Mobile first approached her with the idea of manufacturing mobile phones, laptops and other ICT equipment locally, she thought it was a joke, adding that it fills her with joy to see that dream come true.

Said Anite: “I want us to clap for Simi Mobile for producing these mobile phones here in Uganda and now exporting to Morocco. Who would have thought that a country like Uganda would be manufacturing mobile phones and would be exporting?”

Minister Anite waving the mobile phone export documents. (David Rupiny)

Minister Anite hailed Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) for licensing Simi Mobile and offering it land in the industrial park and aftercare services, and National Information Technology Authority of Uganda (NITA-U) for ensuring that the company takes off.

She reported that in order to boost uptake of locally made mobile phones, Government has introduced an import tax of 10 percent on mobile phones, adding that this is intended to protect local manufacturers like Simi who create jobs and reduce the country’s import bill.

Minister Anite said one exciting thing for her is that “we’ve been able to reduce our import bill by importing less while exporting more to the region and beyond”.

Anite, while directly addressing UIA, said: “It fills my heart with joy whenever I visit Namanve [industrial park] for launch or commissioning of a factory. When I became Minister for Investment, we had just 14 industries operational in Namanve, now we have over 100 operational companies, creating over 11,000 jobs”. The Minister asked the UIA Director for Industrial Development, Hamza Galiwango, flanked by his deputy, Godfrey Ssemakula to stand up for recognition.

On the effects of Covid-19 pandemic on investments, Minister Anite said while some sectors are significantly affected, manufacturing is not one of them. She said thanks to Covid-19, many Ugandans are taking up opportunities like in manufacturing of sanitizers, face masks, temperature guns, and other products, concluding that “every dark cloud had a silver lining”.

The Board Secretary of Simi Mobile Uganda, David Beecham Okwere, said the mobile phone exports will proudly carry the Ugandan Flag with a Made-in-Uganda tag, adding that they have fulfilled the promise they made five months ago of producing phones for the local market and for exports.

Okwere showing a temperature gun. Simi Mobile Uganda will soon start making cheaper versions. (David Rupiny)

Okwere said Simi Mobile is promoting value addition by using locally made software and boosting local content by collaborating with universities to develop software that will be added to the phones.

He revealed that in fighting Covid-19, they are soon making digital temperature guns which will be sold very cheaply at about 50,000 shillings (equivalent to about 12 US dollars) and protective eye goggles for medical workers. He said they have also developed an app for online trading that can be used in both smartphones and feature phones (locally known as kabiriti) – ideal for rural areas.

Okwere appealed to the Government to support manufacturers of locally made products like Simi mobile phones by offering tax reliefs because high taxation adversely affects their growth.

UIA Board Member Morrison Rwakakamba addressing the gathering. (David Rupiny)

UIA’s Board Member, Morrison Rwakakamba, thanked Simi Mobile for localizing its production, collaborating with local universities in product development and continuing to operate during the Covid-19 pandemic. He pledged UIA’s support to the company.

NITA-U Executive Director, James Saka. (David Rupiny)

The Executive Director of NITA-U, James Saka, said they will continue to support Simi Mobile and other manufacturers to continue reducing the cost of smartphones in order to deepen penetration of broadband which would in turn boost online services and economic growth.

Minister Anite (5L) with officials from UIA, NITA-U and Simi Mobile Uganda. (David Rupiny)

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