Government hands US firm deal to make smart phones

Thursday November 1 2018

Innovation. Left to right: The chairman of

Innovation. Left to right: The chairman of Microfinance Support Centre, Dr Kisamba Mugerwa, the NEC managing director, Maj Gen James Mugira, CTI Africa CEO Michael Landau and State Minister for Investment Evelyn Anite display a prototype of the mobile phone the firm intends to manufacture in Kampala yesterday. Photo by Misairi Thembo Kahungu 

By MISAIRI THEMBO KAHUNGU

Kampala. Government yesterday unveiled an American company, CTI Africa, to start assembling smart mobile phones in Uganda.
The CTI Africa arm, LifeMobile, which will assemble the phones, was unveiled yesterday by the Minister of State for Investment and Privatisation, Ms Evelyn Anite, at the National Enterprises Corporation (NEC) offices in Bugolobi, Kampala.
“We are very excited that CTI Africa is going to start assembling mobile phones in Uganda. Ugandans are carrying so many mobile phones but none is manufactured here. So, if Ugandans buy these phones, we will diversify our economy because the dollars that would be spent on importing smart phones will be used here,” Ms Anite said.
She said the government, through NEC, has already allocated LifeMobile a site on 6th Street in Industrial Area where the assembling plant will be built.
Ms Anite said President Museveni will launch the first LifeMobile smart phones early next year.
The CTI Africa chief executive officer, Mr Michael Landau, said the assembling will help develop specialised applications to improve healthcare, mobile banking, insurance, microfinance and education services.
The company will invest $10m (about Shs40b) into the venture and create at least 400 jobs in the first phase of operation.
Mr Landau has previously played a key role in Uganda’s mobile banking innovations.
He said LifeMobile already has prospective partnerships with Jubilee Insurance for insurance services, Jumia Uganda for e-commerce, Ecobank and Microfinance Support Centre for e-banking, Medical Concierge and Uganda Protestant Medical Bureau for healthcare services.
“Our applications will be very important in improving people’s lives. We want LifeMobile to be a lifeline to all the digital services available. This LifeMobile is about using a smart phone as a tool for life as it will have Apps for healthcare, insurance, e-commerce and banking,” Mr Landau said.
He described LifeMobile as the “transformation tool for the next generation” because the smart phone will attract big companies to Uganda.
At the unveiling ceremony, LifeMobile representatives displayed three smart phone models; low range, mid-range and a tablet and said applications on these models will be piloted in Buikwe District.
Mr Landau said the firm’s first phones assembled in Uganda will be released between January and March 2019, adding that the company has already received orders for at least 75,000 smart phones.
He said in order to help more Ugandans acquire the smart phones easily, the company will make an arrangement where people can buy on hire purchase.
Ms Anite allayed the fear of how government will protect the locally assembled phones against similar imported sets.
“Through the Buy Uganda, Build Uganda policy, we shall put tax barriers for importation of products similar to those produced locally. We have already done that for ceramic tiles and therefore Ugandans need to be patriotic by buying what is manufactured here,” she said.
Maj Gen James Mugira, the managing director of NEC, which has been assigned by the President to handle the government partnership, said the arrival of LifeMobile is a symbolic moment for Uganda.
“Thank you CTI for choosing Uganda, we will give [you] this initiative to build a smart community [and] all the full support it needs,” Gen Mugira said.

Other companies
LifeMobile becomes the third foreign company seeking to start a smart phone assembling plant in Uganda.
On January 9 this year, President Museveni wrote to the Prime Minister and other ministers directing Uganda Telecom Limited (UTL) to expeditiously conclude talks with a state-owned Chinese IT company- China National Electronics Import & Export Corp (CEIEC), which had been selected to establish a smart phone factory in Uganda.
A government team led by UTL administrator, Mr Twebaze Bemanya, visited China in January to assess CEIEC capability.
However, later the President endorsed a $10m (about Shs40b) deal with another Chinese firm Xinlan Group to establish a smart phones factory in Uganda. The deal is pending conclusion of the government discussions with the new Nigerian company that took over UTL.
Mr Museveni asked UTL managers to ensure that any firm that starts assembling the phones in Uganda must use local minerals such as coltan.
It is not clear whether government abandoned the CEIEC venture or is pursuing it together with the Xinland Group deal.
Another Chinese firm, Sim, has been given land in Namanve Industrial Park to assemble smart phones.

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