Initially, they created a laptop at lower cost.Constraints of all kinds have mutated the project and Verona Mankou today is proud to present the first in Brazzaville “designed and manufactured” phones in Francophone Africa.
His company, VMK, is installed in a building in the center of the capital of the Republic of Congo. In the offices of the administrative and commercial staff, we work in and the walls are still waiting for a lick of paint for an official inauguration.
But the plant running. The first phone manufactured in Congo came out July 13. Access to the building after passing through a narrow lock, by “antibacterial shower” (a blower), guided by the messages in Chinese.
Sitting side by side along two assembly lines, some 70 workers in a blouse and blue cap climb the Elikia phones (“Hope” in Lingala, the first national language of Congo) as a whitish light that gives the whole the appearance of an operating theater.
Concentrated, they work in a silence disturbed constantly by ringtones and voice messages emitted by the devices in the control stage. Two Chinese, aided by an interpreter, oversee operations.
VMK (for “Vumbuka”, “Wake up” in kituba, the second Congolese national language) has really taken off in 2011 with the launch of a touch pad, designed the first in Africa.
The following year, the company Mr. Mankou, which has just 29 years, launched its first phone designed in Congo but made in China. The range is then expanded and, as a result of a technology transfer with the Chinese partner VMK, production of phones has just returned to Congo.
– Explosion of the market –
In a few weeks, China imported today hulls should be made in Brazzaville.
In Anglophone Africa, a South African company, Mint Mobile, began this year to produce phones in the suburbs of Johannesburg.
“Why go abroad what we can do in Africa?” asks Mr. Mankou, blue blazer over a shirt open at the collar.
For the man who has learned maintenance in Congo and China, Africa has considerable assets to make. With the rise of wages in Asia, “we must find a new earth [production for industry] and us, we think this is the Congo and Africa,” argues Mr. Mankou, which focuses on the explosion of mobile telephony on the continent to develop its business.
In a report published in 2014, the Association of mobile operators (GSMA), which represents the interests of about 800 telecom service providers in the world, estimated that the number of owners of a mobile sub-Saharan Africa is expected to climb further 60? etween 2013 and 2020, from 311 to 504,000,000.
VMK produced four phone models, ranging from 11,900 CFA francs (18.1 euros) to 64,900 CFA francs (98.94 euros) for the “Elikia L”, and wants to make its products accessible to more people.
– ‘Time for Africa –
The company’s advertisements play on the call capacity of an African unit, with slogans like “Celebrating the African renaissance, see below, be different,” or “Never an African technology was not as portable “.
Mr. Mankou is convinced “consume African, African produce, this is a very important point because the feeling of pan-Africanism is growing up with many consumers.”
Mute on the financial statements of its society, the young entrepreneur accept just said that the new plant VMK cost several million euros, largely financed by a gift from the Congolese government.
He said the company, which employs about 200 people, produced in July its 100,000th unit and aims to term production of 350,000 units per month.
For now, says Mankou, the workers are still in training, now colliding with a serious problem of lack of qualification.
The Elikia devices are sold in Congo but since this year in Ivory Coast, and is soon VMK Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mr. Mankou believes that the greatest difficulties he had to overcome “are not really technical barriers” but rather “psychological”: “we have in front of us partners and investors who do not understand, who do not think it is possible to do what we are doing … “
He hopes that progress VMK will change things and that his interlocutors will accompany the project. Because “technically, everything is within reach,” he swears.