JKUAT targets 1,500 laptops daily at its Juja assembly plant


From left: Kiambu deputy governor Gerald Githinji, JKUAT vice chancellor Mabel Imbuga, ICT secretary Fred Matiang’i, JKUAT chancellor Geoffrey ole Maloiy and Gatundu MP Moses Kuria listen as third year student Denise Wambui explains the features of the Taifa laptop during its launch at the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi on Friday. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA

The Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) has set a target of assembling 1,500 laptops daily in an entrepreneurial leap of faith that was last week backed by Treasury’s tax exemption on imported computer parts.

The university launched into the market its ‘Taifa’ branded laptop on Friday, marking JKUAT’s third attempt at cracking the computer and laptop assembly business.

In his Budget speech last week, Treasury secretary Henry Rotich exempted value added tax (VAT) on imported or locally produced computer parts, giving JKUAT’s pet project a major shot in the arm.

High taxation previously impeded local computer or laptop assembly with firms such as Samsung that intended to put up local lines preferring to set up in countries such as Ethiopia that did not attract such tax.

The Taifa laptop that retails at Sh46,720 has a fourth generation processor, 500 gigabytes (GB) hard disk, a 4GB RAM (random access memory), 14-inch screen, Wi-Fi and a Web camera, among other features.

Microsoft and Intel are the suppliers of software and the microchip respectively.

Vice chancellor Mabel Imbuga told the Business Daily after the Friday launch that the university’s previous attempts to launch the project failed because their computer retail prices were higher due to the VAT imposed on imported parts.

“We are targeting the East African market. This is our third attempt, our previous two failed to pick up,” said Prof Imbuga.

Taifa laptop was conceived and designed locally and is a maiden product of the Nairobi Industrial and Technology Park, a subsidiary of JKUAT.

The subsidiary collaborated with Chinese firm, Inspur, to assemble the laptops. A multi-purpose assembly line to be commissioned in September with capacity to produce 1,500 laptops daily is currently being installed at the Juja-based unit.

The plant is expected to operate in three shifts of eight hours each, and employ staff both from the student fraternity and the local community.

“To encourage investments in local assembling of the electronic devices, I propose that inputs imported or purchased locally for the assembly of these devises be exempted from VAT,” said Mr Rotich in the Budget speech.

The laptops are expected in selected stores in Nairobi this week.

Taifa Brand technical project lead Kiula Mwirigi, who is also JKUAT ICT director, said the laptop has the latest computing features in the market.

The machine will be sold through appointed agents and retailers across the county. So far, 4,000 units have been assembled.

Intel East Africa general manager Danie Steyn said: “As a technology company we see unique opportunities in Africa and Kenya is no stranger to this with many innovators being feted globally for their local innovations, what Taifa has done is to unlock the door and now every young person can see that it is possible.”

ICT secretary Fred Matiang’i said such initiatives by the university would boost the number of devices in the country and spur development of local content.

“The ministry of industry will be working more directly with JKUAT so that they can produce more devices,” said Dr Matiang’i.