18 May 20

Why Africa may lead the world in switching to e-mobility

The switch to electric is happening at varying speeds in Europe, North America and China. But what if we all get overtaken by Africa? It's not impossible. In fact, it may already be happening.

If you're looking for a taxi in East Africa, you're likely going to find a boda boda - a motorcycle taxi that offers cheap and convenient mobility in a market increasingly demanding of public transport (pictured: three people on a boda boda in Kampala, Uganda).

Mobility innovation
Though perhaps not as premium a mode of transport as many business customers would prefer, the boda bodas themselves (in Kenya also often called 'piki pikis' and in Rwanda mostly as 'motos') are vehicles for business opportunities and mobility innovation. 

Not only do they provide employment to hundreds of thousands of drivers, they are also the subject of dedicated hailing services that rely on online platforms. 

SafeBoda is an Uber-style e-hailing app for boda bodas, operating in a number of cities across the region. A similar service, Safe Motos, was launched in Kigali and has expanded into DR Congo. Additionally, both Uber and Taxify have launched e-hailing services specifically for boda bodas in Uganda – albeit with varying degrees of success.  

Solar power
In Kampala, a major hub of boda boda culture in East Africa, the sector is taking the next step: using solar power to make its business greener and the Ugandan capital's streets cleaner – and create new jobs. 

Despite an abundant supply of sunshine, less than 10% of the vehicles in Kampala are electric. However, a new project co-sponsored by the UN and the German Ministry for the Environment and coordinated with Uganda's Ministry of Energy, may soon change that. Working via local companies like Zembo and Bodawerk, it aims to convert conventional motorcycles and import tailor-made e-bikes, simultaneously building a network of solar-powered e-bike charging stations across the city.

First results show that boda boda drivers who go electric are able to make a larger profit on their services than before – indicating that the quickest switch to e-mobility may come from not from China, Europe or North America, but from Africa. 

Image: Daryona, CC BY-SA 3.0

Authored by: Frank Jacobs