7 Jul 21

Why the future of mobility in Africa is less than four-wheeled

As incomes rise in Africa, so will the volume of motorised vehicles. However, mobility does not necessarily follow the same trajectory as in already mature markets. The future of mobility in Africa is two- or three-wheeled, rather than four-wheeled. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has given an extra boost to an existing mobility trend in the low- and middle-income countries of Africa (and Asia): the growing popularity of two- and three-wheeled vehicles, which are used for public transport, delivery of goods, and provision of services, both in the formal economy and the informal one. A bonus: these vehicles are relatively easy to electrify, allowing Africa to catch up soon with the more advanced efforts at decarbonisation in Europe, China, and North America. 

More than 20 start-ups
Early to recognise the importance of two- and three-wheelers to the economies of low- and middle-income countries, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Germany’s International Climate Initiative (IKI) in 2017 set up an initiative to integrate them into existing urban transport systems in East Africa and Southeast Asia. 

At that time, there were virtually no vehicles of that description in East Africa. Today, the situation has completely changed. According to IKI, there currently are more than 20 start-ups and companies promoting and developing electric motorcycles and three-wheelers in East Africa. 

While these vehicle types are not yet as popular in Africa as they are in Asia – where the proximity of and joint ventures with China are fuelling the market – this may soon change. 

Half a million by 2030
In fact, motorcycles sales in East Africa have now overtaken those of private cars. Annual growth rates of motorbike registrations stood at more than 8% from 2013 to 2017. Motorcycle sales across the region are expected to increase to half a million by 2030. 

If the future looks bright for two- and three-wheelers in East Africa, UNEP and IKI are working to ensure that as many of these vehicles as possible are electrified. To that end, they launched a number of pilot projects:

  • In March 2021, UNEP initiated the first public-private e-mobility projects in Kenya and Uganda, testing 100 e-bikes donated by TAILG, a Chinese OEM. The vehicles are used by park rangers, meter readers, boda-boda taxi drivers, and city officials.
  • Cooperation with the governments of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Burundi, Madagascar, and Seychelles is aimed at spearheading the region’s transition to e-mobility.
  • UNEP and IKI are conducting a Global Electric Mobility Programme, with the support of the EU and others, to build capacity, strategies and policies, business models and financial schemes to support the transition to e-mobility. 

East Africa’s already existing affinity with motorcycles and three-wheelers means that this transition will take place in vehicles with less than four wheels.

Image: Shutterstock

Authored by: Frank Jacobs