Mobile handsets top the list of items that traders ordered from China last year, underlining the popularity of the low-priced smartphones in the Kenyan market despite concerns over quality.
Official data shows that Sh15.5 billion worth of Chinese phones were shipped into the country in the year to November, beating the value of machinery and construction equipment ordered over the same period despite ongoing construction of roads and standard gauge railway (SGR) line.
Chinese brands have in recent years firmed their presence in the local market with low-cost, medium and high-end smartphones, providing consumers with a wide range of internet-enabled devices.
The entry of Techno, Huawei, Lenovo, Oppo and Infinix into Kenyan market has exerted downward pressure on smartphone prices in a market teeming with other brands like South Korea’s Samsung, Wiko of France and Blackberry (Canada).
The value of Chinese phones imports eclipsed that of railway construction materials at Sh13 billion in review period, followed by construction equipment like bulldozers, graders and excavators at Sh11.9 billion, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data shows.
China Road and Bridge Construction Corporation is currently building a Sh327 billion SGR to connect the Mombasa port to Nairobi by mid next year.
This has fuelled demand for steel materials. But the country’s huge appetite for communication devices has lifted phone sales even higher.
Mobile phone usage has rapidly grown in the country as the devices increasingly become more affordable.
Chinese budget smartphones range between Sh5,000 and Sh20,000. Hong Kong-based Infinix, for instance, says it has sold more than 500,000 units since entering Kenyan market in 2014, riding on e-commerce to cut distribution costs and enabling lower prices.
The rising Internet usage to connect on social media has also driven the high demand for smartphones.
The total number of mobile Internet subscriptions grew to more than 21 million last year up from 14 million a year earlier. Besides phones, other imports from China include heavy machinery, electronics, vehicles, textiles and household goods.
China has cemented its position as the largest source market for Kenya’s imports, followed by India and the US.
The KNBS data shows that Kenya’s total imports from China grew to Sh295 billion in the first 11 months of last year, up from Sh222 billion in 2014.
But bilateral trade is heavily skewed in favour of the world’s second largest economy, denying Kenya the much-needed hard currency inflows.
Kenya exported less than Sh5 billion worth of goods to Beijing in the review period, official data shows.