Congolese technology company VMK is attempting to break into the smart phone and tablet market by unveiling the first homegrown devices specifically geared towards Africans.
VMK announced the launch of the new Way-C tablet and Elikia smart phone earlier this week. To market the devices as authentically African, the budding tech company chose the names Way-C, which means “the light of the stars” and Elikia, which translates to “hope” in the local Lingala language.
“Only Africans know what Africa needs,” says Congolese entrepreneur and founder, Verone Mankou. “Apple is huge in the US, Samsung is huge in Asia, and we want VMK to be huge in Africa.”
While the specs of the devices are not quite ‘top of the line’ compared to its competitors, its reasonable price tag is what Mankou believes is the biggest selling point for local African communities. The 27-year old entrepreneur says the aim is to get these products into the hands of African locals by making the products more affordable, according to his statement at the Tech4Africa conference in Johannesburg last month. Both devices use Google’s Android operating system.
Although the company has high ambitions to compete with mobile juggernauts Apple and Samsung, there has been some negative speculation amid the tech community surrounding the authenticity of VMK’s products because the devices are manufactured in China. This reaction is due to the tainted reputation that other African tech companies have garnered in the past for producing copies of other products.
For instance, Smartplanet reports that a Nigerian-based company a few years ago first claimed to have released Africa’s homegrown tablet; however, it was soon discovered that the device was simply an OEM product sold throughout the world under different names.
While Africa’s tech reputation has plummeted in recent years, VMK firmly states that the design and engineering of their products are authentically African-based, even though they are manufactured overseas.
“We are somewhat offended by the disregard of those who persist in denying the authentication of our products, despite evidence,” according to statement from VMK’s website. “Most of those critics are either Afro-pessimistic (who argue that ‘nothing good’ can come from Africa’), or just (future) competitors who have [an] OEM on the market or are planning to market and/or commercialize one.”
He says that their reason to outsource the manufacturing process to China was due to lower costs and limited availability of factories in the Congo.To make it even more clear, Mankou decided to engrave “Designed in the Republic of Congo, assembled in China” on the devices, which mimics the engravings on Apple’s iPhones and iPads that read “Designed by Apple in California.”
The three-year-old tech company also says that unlike previous “African-based” smartphones and tablets, there are no products on the market matching VMK devices in other countries under different branding.
VMK plans to sell the devices at retailers across 10 West African countries in addition to releases in Belgium, France and India.
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