Egypt’s first smartphone maker will assemble handsets for other companies as it seeks to become the main contract builder of electronics bound for the rest of Africa.
SICO Technology, which makes its own Nile X brand of handsets that sell for as low as $80, has begun to build smartphones for Indian and Chinese firms and will eventually produce items like TVs, satellite receiver boxes and electronic-payment systems under contract, Chief Executive Officer Mohamed Salem said in an interview.
International companies will “benefit from the presence of a manufacturing center away from East Asia,” Salem said, declining to identify who it has agreements with. The pandemic’s disruption to supply chains “proved that technological and industrial centers must be distributed around the world.”
SICO could play a role broadly similar to Foxconn Technology Group, which makes iPhones in Asia, he said. Demand for handsets in Africa is booming as more people come online and prices fall, with mobile banking a particularly popular service.
The plan comes as Egypt, one of the continent’s three largest economies and its top manufacturer, looks to boost trade with sub-Saharan Africa. While the Arab nation’s exports to the continent are a fraction of those sent to Europe, the Middle East or the U.S., they recorded solid annual growth before the pandemic and stand to benefit from the African Continental Free Trade Area enacted in January.
SICO, which is 20% owned by Egypt’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and has factories near Cairo and in the southern city of Assiut, targets producing more than 2 million devices of various brands next year, up from 1.5 million in 2021, Salem said.
SICO already sells its handsets and tablets in Gulf Arab countries, France and Rwanda, exporting 15 000 to 20 000 units a year, Salem said. It’s seeking to ship to four more African nations -- Tanzania, Liberia, Mauritania and Namibia -- in the coming months.
Some 45% of SICO’s smartphone components are locally sourced, with other parts coming from places including China, Salem said.