By opening its first store in the Ivory Coast, VMK, based in the Republic of the Congo, is taking a big step in its expansion plans and potentially setting up a designed-in-Africa brand competition with RLG.
VMK has up to now offered products manufactured in China but has plans to start making phones in Africa. RLG, which has global headquarters in Dubai, runs its West African phone-assembling operation from Ghana.
VMK's move into West Africa from its Central Africa base in Brazzaville coincided with the Ivory Coast's launch of a project aimed at equipping 500,000 families with a computer or a tablet, plus an Internet broadband connection.
VMK announced the opening of its store in Abidjan last week. VMK CEO Vérone Mankou said in a press release that his "underlying ambition is to bridge the digital gap in Africa."
The Ivory Coast's "One citizen, one computer + an internet connection" project aims to jumpstart Internet use in the country, which in 2013 ranked 120th out of 144 countries listed in the World Economic Forum's Network Readiness Index. Families will be able to acquire a full package (computer or a tablet plus an Internet broadband connection) on credit through any of the banks associated with the project.
Meanwhile, VMK plans to open a second store in the Ivory Coast as well as outlets in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Douala, Cameroun; and Dakar, Senegal, this year. The stores will sell exclusively VMK products, which include two Android-based smartphone models -- the Elikia and the Elikia L -- as well as the Way-C tablet. A second tablet will be launched in March.
VMK plans to assemble mobile devices in a factory in the Republic of Congo, which required an investment of nearly US$2 million. VMK's Chinese partner company has started training locals to be employed at the factory for a planned per month production of 350,000 units. About 90 people will be employed in the plant.
VMK is likely to run into competition with RLG, which is eyeing the West African market with its own line of devices produced in Africa.