ENGO Holdings Limited, a subsidiary of Chinese tech firm SIMI Group on Thursday broke ground to construct a facility that will host Uganda’s first phone and computer manufacturing plant in Namanve Industrial Park, one of Uganda’s largest factory hubs.
The event was graced by top government officials in the ICT sector, notable among them Minister of State for Finance in charge of Investment & Privatization Evelyn Anite, NITA-U Executive Director James Saaka and Minister of ICT and National Guidance Frank Tumwebaze who in their speeches all stated that the development is aimed at strengthening the country’s ICT capacity by training more local manpower, providing market for local innovations and proving to the world that Uganda can host such powerful initiatives.
Of late, Uganda has been championing the BUBU (Build Uganda Buy Uganda) policy, which calls for promoting local content. And in her speech, Minister Anite urged ENGO Holdings to train and hire local talent.
“We expect you to hire and train local Ugandans to handle the various operations in the manufacture of these products as stipulated in your MOU with NITA-U,” she said, adding:
“The Government of Uganda is on an accelerated path to industrialization. It gives me great Joy whenever we add a new player in the industry and manufacturing sector. However, today is special because it demonstrates that Uganda is now a favored destination for investments in high-tech manufacture and all the advantages, they bring especially in skilling our people. Brace yourselves, we are taking ‘made in Uganda’ to the next level.”
While speaking at the launch of Refactory, another initiative aimed at producing graduates with market-ready ICT skills, Minister Tumwebaze revealed that Uganda was planning a law that would compel government entities to buy local apps, especially now that the ICT Ministry is channeling a portion of its budget to funds startups. This year 60 were given Shs6 billion.
For his part, ENGO Holdings CEO Ares Zhou said that they are planning to hire over 600 workers and 50 engineers to work in the manufacturing facility that is expected to churn out 3 million mobile phones and 1 million computers annually. This will be on top of other electronics like electric whiteboards and Wi-Fi routers that will be assembled.
According to Zhou, they have another factory in Ethiopia.
“We have successful experience of how to operate ICT factory in Arica,” he said, adding that “based on Uganda government positive policy for ICT industry we are willing to contribute our knowledge, skill, experience to Uganda”.
The products will be branded SIMI and SIMIX.
According to NITA-U, there are more than 22 million mobile phone subscribers in Uganda, translating to a 45% subscription rate. Over 18 million Ugandans are internet users. This implies that lots of Ugandans are still unable to Internet-enabled phones because of costs. But with phones being manufactured locally, it could reduce the costs, analysts say.
On the good note, the ICT sector is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, growing at an accumulative annual growth rate of above 27%, according to NITA-U and contributing 3% to the GDP.
In his speech, the NITA-U ED Saaka noted that all phones, tabs, and laptops manufactured by ENGO Holdings will have all frequently used lifestyle applications such as the UMEME, NWSC, MNO apps, etc. come pre-installed upon purchase.
“As NITA-U we have developed numerous standards and guidelines which government and private entities must comply to when developing their IT systems. We have now moved to develop standards to guide the manufacture of electronics, ICT equipment including computers and related products,” he added. “It is great progress that we are moving Uganda into this ICT equipment manufacturing space but we must move in tandem with the rest of the world in terms of standards and quality in order to be competitive.”
Speaking at the event, Tumwebaze said: “We are moving in the right direction towards promoting home-grown ICT solutions. Just last month, Through the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance the government of Uganda awarded 60 Innovators under the National ICTs Innovation Support Program (NIISP) a programme that was set up to facilitate the creation of an ICT Innovation ecosystem and Marketplace for Ugandan innovative digital products. With this ceremony here today, we are now moving to tackle the hardware side of the coin.”
He also appealed to all Government organizations to cooperate in supporting the objectives of this collaboration.