_64983721_64983720VMK launch ‘first African-designed’ smartphone and tablet

BBC Africa has published an article that a smartphone and tablet said to be the first designed by an African company have been launched. Designed by Congolese entrepreneur Verone Mankou, these two products are manufactured in China.

Verone Mankou’s company VMK’s devices run Google’s Android software. They will retail at $170 (£105) for the smartphone and $300 (£185) for the tablet. Speaking at the Tech4Africa conference, Mankou said “only Africans can know what Africa needs.” He went on to explain that “Apple is huge in the US, Samsung is huge in Asia, and we want VMK to be huge in Africa.” Technology blog Smartplanet reports that the tablet offers wi-fi connectivity and four gigabytes of internal storage. Its name, Way-C, means “the light of the stars” in the local Lingala language.

According to the BBC, the smartphone has rear and forward facing cameras and a 3.5in (8.9cm) screen. There are plans to sell the devices across 10 West African countries as well as Belgium, France and India. Mr Mankou said he hoped to launch a cheaper tablet for students next year. I am waiting for the cheaper version.

First?

The devices will come up against several already well-established and popular brands. Most notably, _64983987_64983986Blackberry-maker Research in Motion (RIM) has a significant presence on the continent, despite flagging sales in the western market. Popular too are handsets from Nokia, which is working closely with Facebook to grow African’s interest in both mobile communication and social networking.

There is however, a growing desire among African communities to support homegrown products, spurred on by fledgling technology scenes in various cities across the region.

‘Offended’

Attempts to be seen as African have caused some firms to be accused of dishonesty. Companies were highly criticized after they were deemed to be marketing products that were made offshore but simply branded locally.

VMK insisted that while the product was manufactured in China for cost reasons, the design and engineering was entirely African.

The company’s website released a statement saying: “We are somewhat offended by the disregard of those who persist in denying the authentication of our products, despite evidence.

“Most of those critics are either Afro-pessimistic (who argue that ‘nothing good can come from Africa’), or just (future) competitors.”

I have always been against patents and intellectual property rights. So I should not speak on that or I would be bias.

Personally, I welcome the ingenuity by VMK. For one thing, I would rather have a debate about patents than civil wars – this news essentially sheds a different colour on Congo. I am waiting the time when these devices will be made in cities like Kinshasa, Lome, Accra, and Maputo. Some countries like Ethiopia are already on this track.