In spite of engaging in a civil war in less than three decades ago, Rwanda is becoming a force to reckon with on the continent with respect to technology.
In 2018, the founder of Mara Group, Ashish Thakkar revealed plans to have smartphone manufacturing plants in Rwanda and South Africa. It appears the plans have been solidified as the Rwandan Minister for Information and Communications Technology, Paula Ingabire recently made known that activities on the plant would commence by April 2019.
Last year, at a TECNO Mobile global launch event hosted in Lagos, Nigeria, the Nigerian Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu urged Transsion Holdings -- the group behind TECNO, Inifinx and itel brands -- to work on establishing a factory in the country. Almost a year after the call, there appears to be no factory in sight.
For Shittu, one of the reasons why the phone manufacturer should choose the country to house its next African factory is the large population.
But as it is, the population is not the basis for setting up a manufacturing plant in a country. According to Worldometers, Rwanda has a population of 12.7 million compared to Nigeria’s 199.1 million. Even Ethiopia, that houses the only Transsion Holdings manufacturing plant in Africa, has a population of 109.2 million and South Africa -- which Mara Group is considering alongside Rwanda -- has 57.8 million.
Are Nigeria's population figures just mere numbers? Gloo founder, Olumide Olusanya after revealing plans to shut down eCommerce operations of his business earlier in the year, affirmed that the total addressable market (TAM) for eCommerce in the country is low.
If figures from Newzoo are anything to go by, they buttress Olumide's claim of the low TAM. As of September 2018 and according to Newzoo, the African country with the highest smartphone penetration was Morocco with 37.9%. Nigeria, with 13% penetration, took the 9th spot behind the likes of South Africa, Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda.
Even if Transsion Holdings or any other smartphone manufacturer eventually considers Nigeria for a plant, it won’t be the first. As AfriOne currently maintains a smartphone assembly plant in Lagos, Nigeria.
But in spite of the presence of a smartphone assembly plant in Nigeria, there’s still the question around the first choice destination for technology in Africa, considering that Nigeria currently accounts for 15% of the continent's population.
Last year, Google announced that it will establish an Artificial Intelligence lab in Ghana. And just less than a week, Nigeria’s CcHUB launched the continent's first design hub in Rwanda. These all point to the possibility that other African countries are more bankable for technology ventures than the most populous country on the continent.