Kagame Launched VW and Mara Phone Assembly Plants. What Happened?

By David Himbara

General Paul Kagame has been globe-trotting – Turkey, Amman, Nigeria, Qatar, the UK, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Benin, and the US. While attending the Qatar Economic Forum on 23 May 2023, the General was asked about Rwanda’s economic strength. He was taken aback by the question, fumbling around and mentioning something about delivery drones. Of course, Rwanda does not make drones. The drone company operating in Rwanda is Zipline, an American company which designs, manufactures, and operates delivery drones in different parts of the world. The company operates distribution centers in the US, Rwanda, and Ghana, with signed agreements to begin operations in Japan, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, and Kenya.

Listening to General Kagame, I wondered why he did not boast about the automobile and smartphone assembly plants in Rwanda. Kagame famously launched the Volkswagen assembly plant in Kigali on July 30, 2018. And on October 8, 2019, Kagame launched the Mara Smartphone assembly plant. At the launch of the VW assembly plant, Kagame said:

“Africa does not need to be a dumping ground for second-hand cars, or second-hand anything…Africa and Rwanda deserve better and this is one way of showing we can afford it,”

At the launch of the Mara Smartphone assembly plant, Kagame said:

“The Mara Phone joins a growing list of high-quality products that are made in our country…Mara Phone is another milestone on our journey to the high-tech ‘Made-in-Rwanda’ industry.”

So, what happened to the Volkswagen assembly plant and the Mara Smartphone assembly plant? I got the answer to my question in Kagame’s own newspaper, The New Times. The VW automobile assembly plant is not assembling any cars, five years after it was launched. According to the paper’s interview with Serge Kamuhinda, the CEO of VW Rwanda, assembling vehicles was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “The scarcity of materials, particularly the semiconductor the crisis impacted the assembly of electric vehicles.” Kamuhinda adds that VW Rwanda is “actively working towards reactivating the electric vehicle assembly line by the end of the year.”

The New Times paints the same gloomy picture of the Mara smartphone after interviewing the Managing Director, Eddy Sebera. Mara smartphone has yet to produce a single item four years after it was launched. The MD confirmed that:

“We finished the pilot phase, and now we are getting ready for carrying out what we call large-scale production…We will inform you when we are ready for that.”

The Kagame big lie on the journey to the high-tech “Made-in-Rwanda’ industry” is despicable. “Politics have no relation to morals,” advised Machiavelli to his 16th-century Italian Prince; the consolidation of power by any means is what matters. Machiavelli’s words are still relevant today in all manner of personalistic regimes, half a millennium later. Stay tuned.