Verone Mankou hopes to become the Steve Jobs of Africa. The 27-year-old Congolese entrepreneur recently released the continent’s first ever homegrown smart phone and tablet, a move Mankou hopes will result in his company, VMK, cornering the booming mobile phone market in Africa.
“Only Africans know what Africa needs,” Mankou explained during a speech at a technology conference. “Apple is huge in the US, Samsung is huge in Asia, and we want VMK to be huge in Africa.”
VMK’s offerings, the Way-C tablet and Elikia, are “African designed” gadgets with lower price tags than major brands, a fact Mankou hopes will make them more attractive to local consumers.
SmartPlanet.com gives a few more details about VMK’s products:
The Way-C, or “the light of the stars” in the local Lingala language, is a small tablet roughly the size of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab. It measures 7.4″ x 6.7″ x 0.5″ and weighs 13.4 ounces. Wi-Fi connectivity and 4GB of internal memory come standard. While its specs aren’t eye-popping, the price is. At $300, it comes in less than the iPad mini.
The Elikia (”Hope”) is an Android-based smartphone with a 3.5-inch display, rear and forward facing cameras, 512MB of RAM, and a 650MHz processor. It retails for $170 without a contract.
Despite VMK’s promise, not everyone is convinced the company lives up to its hype. After a Nigerian company claimed to have produced Africa’s first smart phone a few years ago, consumers later learned it was an OEM (original equipment manufacture) product available throughout the world sold under different names. But Mankou insists his products are original and designed in Congo.
VMK dedicated an entire section of their website to explain why and how their products are original and designed in Africa, and has said that he is “offended by the comments of those who, despite our evidence to stubbornly refuse to recognize the authenticity of our products.” He blames the skepticism on “Afro-pessimists” who believe “nothing good can come from Africa,” but Mankou aims to change that.
His vision might just be catching on. In addition to selling their devices in Congo, VMK also has plans to expands to 10 West African countries and Belgium, France and India.