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.

  • THe Comment

    Congrats!!!!!! This is awesome news. I only wish I could buy it. That is one thing I really dislike about tele-communication…you can not buy any coverage you want from any country. It be nice to buy the phone just to show my financial support.

    If anyone knows how to obtain this phone please let me know.

  • http://tontonmichel.tumblr.com/ Tonton Michel

    I want these just because….hell I want stock in the company! I understand Mr. Mankou’s frustration with “afro-pessimists” and I will go as far as race influenced ideas about Africans and what they can accomplish, hopefully his company will blow that thinking out of the water.

  • THe Comment

    and one more item….it will be a beautiful day when there are more black/african academics, inventors and scientist than black athletes.

  • omfg

    while i’m happy there are folks in africa and doing this sort of thing, his pronouncement is weird.

    apple is big all over the world, not just in the u.s.
    samsung is big the world over, not just in asia. in fact, their phones (and products) are incredibly popular in the u.s.

    i guess i find what whole only africans know what africans want thing to be a bit doofus. on some level i get it, but he doesn’t use his own os; he’s using android. last i checked, that’s american. so, his os doesn’t reflect a particular african know-how.

    i’m trying to understand how this is something that reflects his understanding of africans.

    i clicked on the link and the phone is pricey, for what it is evidently. people who can afford this phone, may as well get a tricked out unlocked android samsung, assuming they are on gsm. you can get an unlocked sony xperia for around $300 on amazon or the sony website.

    i think he should think more globally, offering the same level of product as everyone else instead of offering africans less of a product for more or the same amount of money.

  • AM

    I’m an African, and a VERY proud one at that, BUT I do have to say you have raised VERY legitimate points to ponder on. Lovely comment.

  • DownSouth Transplant

    That was my first thoughts, I need to invest in this company ASAP, working on finding how tonight .

  • DownSouth Transplant
  • Masengo

    You say that because the devices use Android OS it doesn’t ‘reflect a particular African know-how’. Well the same can be said for Samsung & LG what particular S. Korean know how is exhibited in their devices, which run solely on Android OS? I think the know how lies in the physical and technical ingenuity and the OS can come later. Google didn’t immediately start out with Android or Chrome or the new Chrome Book. They slowly but surely expanded into different aspects of the technology as they bought out other companies. Samsung branched out into the tablet market, LG branched out into home appliances. I think to expect something completely brand new and original is a bit far-fetched especially with the economic implications as well as geographic. I think though that this is a step in the right direction of taking back our economy and rebuilding our community. It may just be a tablet and smartphone today but no one knows what can happen in 20 years. I took just that long for Apple, Samsung & LG to grow from fledgling business selling cheaper versions of electronics to industry leaders. As a proud Congolese-American I support our brother in taking action and doing something we can be proud of as a people.

  • Anthony

    I hope they are hits so he can drop his prices a bit lower. At $150-200 for that tablet he will kick ass, so would a $100 phone.

  • Lola

    False! First tablet in Africa was made in Nigeria http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-18895366

  • Pingback: the onyx razor » Blog Archive » Congolese Tech Company Releases Africa's First Smart Phone …

  • omfg

    @masengo

    i have no idea what you are talking about.

    although they sell things that might appeal more to asians or koreans in their home markets, samsung nor lg were trying to reflect a korean sensibility. they were trying to appeal to a global market. so your argument does not work here.

    also, the owner put this expectation out there, not me. so naturally i am looking for what is supposedly something only an african can produce for africans. come to find out, there is not much that is african here.

    this person is thinking in terms of his product having an african sensibility but all i see is youtube, opera….western applications. besides the smartphone being designed by an african, there is nothing here that is uniquely african.

    i do not think you understand what i am saying. you can be proud but i would not be down for not getting the same sort of product as everyone else and at a competitive price. he should not base his business on african loyalty or african ignorance to the outside world, something that would allow him to succeed, for sales.

  • Ange B

    Glad to hear news about technology (especially this phone/tablet so heavily dominated by America & Asia & Europe) coming out of Africa period! Hopefully it does well. Plus thanks for posting the link about the First African made tablet as well Lola. Information sharing is great.

  • THe Comment

    @DownSouth Transplant

    I translated as much as I could using google. I just left my name and # for them to contact me.

    Thx for the info.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nyaze Nyaze Vincent

    Africans knowing what Africans want isn’t doofus. Steve Jobs’ genius wasn’t being able to program or even design hardware. The Apple OS is based on Unix and Android is based on Linux and was purchased by Google in 2005. They didn’t invent Android, they acquired it. The job of an entrepreneur is being able to market a product. That’s what innovation is. Innovation is not a synonym for invention. There are lots of inventions that nobody ever hears about that are great. Innovation is taking an idea and making it economically plausible. That is the meaning of for us, by us. It means only someone who truly understands his customers can offer a truly satisfactory product.

  • nona

    Wonderful news, congrats to him and lots of luck/prosperity!

  • Afreeka

    Great article clutch! Pls keep bringing us news from our mother land.

  • LOKOUMOU YA CONGO (CONGO’S PRIDE)

    Thank you Britni Danielle for this article!!! It’s great to see Africans/Blacks excelling in business and and technology. We need more of these type of stories.
    I’m proud of Verone Mankou. He makes me even prouder to be Congolese. I’m visiting Brazzaville in 2 months and will definitely get a VMK product.

  • p

    WHY????

    Y jump on the same bandwagon?

    Come up with something new and different. In any industry.

    Is that war in Congo over and has the atrocities against some Congolese women over?

    PLEASE!

  • ruggie

    Sounds promising!

  • Steph

    There are no atrocities against women in Congo-Brazzaville. You are referring to a different Congo (RDC). Anyway even if it was the case why are you not happy to see something good coming out of an African country? Your statement shows that you don’t know anything about the region. There are two Congo in case you don’t know (Please check your map). I am Sorry mate but that Elikia is not the kind of news you are not used to and I am not surprised that no one talks about in the west. The mobile industry is a hot topic why focus on a different sector while everything is going mobile? I am from Congo-Brazzaville and proud of this product.

  • LOKOUMOU YA CONGO (CONGO’S PRIDE)

    WHY??? Why not? SMFH.The guy is 27, and he’s making strides in technology and business, and you somehow find something negative to say about that. Tell us, what have you invented?

    FYI, Mr Mankou is from the Republic of Congo (a.k.a Congo-Brazzaville, which is a different country than the Democratic republic of Congo a.k.a Congo-Kinshasa/f.k.a Zaïre). The war you’re referring to is in the eastern part of the Dem. Rep of the Congo, of which Mr Mankou is not a citizen.

    Honestly, I didn’t except you to know the difference between the two countries.I know it can be confusing to tell the difference between the two names. Even if he were from the DRC,he doesn’t mean he cannot be a tech innovator. There are atrocities here in the US too, maybe not exactly of the same magnitude but that didn’t stop the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

    Your comment was uncalled for and actually ignorant.

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