Find out how going electric can create jobs, increase a driver’s income, provide a lower carbon emissions transport option and revolutionise the boda boda industry in East Africa.
Booming urban populations, fuelling congested roads, where everyone competes for space, along with the absence of reliable public transport systems - has led to the growth in popularity of motorcycles - with their affordability, ease of maintenance, speed and adaptability to local roads e.g. gridlocked traffic and mud paths of informal settlements.
Motorcycle taxis, locally known as boda bodas - account for over 40% of the trips in Uganda’s capital Kampala, and have become one of the biggest drivers of the economy.
Whilst they serve as a much needed form of transport and are essential to access social amenities such as health care, school, or a job - they are one of the largest causes of carbon emissions and pollution in Kampala, where air quality is rated amongst the worst of all cities globally!
Two engineers, Daniel Dreher and Etienne Saint Serin, with experience working in the renewable sector in Uganda, were faced by the following concerns:
i) The number of boda boda drivers on the road, that often drive beyond the motorcycle’s intended lifespan - the need to improve transport conditions, making the experience safer for users
ii) Noxious exhaust fumes and oil emitted from the internal combustion engines of the motorcycles - the need to improve air quality for everyone
iii) Global climate change and the release of greenhouse gases - the need to find a solution to reduce CO2 emissions
iv) High fuel prices and maintenance costs putting a strain on driver’s daily income and the lack of financing solutions meaning they can never quite save enough to buy their own motorcycles - the need to ultimately improve driver’s income stability, especially amongst unemployed youth.
Daniel and Etienne intensively researched and analysed the large industry that needed to be targeted: Uganda represents one of the largest importers of motorcycles in East Africa, with over 600,000 boda bodas. In Kampala alone, there are currently around 150,000 drivers earning their daily income by driving a conventional boda boda, serving a population of approximately 2 million people.
In 2017, the two founders came up with a motorcycle and battery solution that is developed and designed for the needs of the Ugandan population, especially for those at the bottom of the pyramid.
The motorcycle parts are imported from China but designed and assembled locally, to create vehicles that are reliable, durable, comfortable, clean and automatic (easier to handle) - this comes in handy where motorcycles carry all manner of loads.
With safe and high capacity lithium batteries emitting no CO2, no particles, no pollution. The batteries are recharged in 3-4 hours with solar energy at charging stations across the city, where a full battery charge can last 50-80km.
Their battery swap model means that drivers do not need to buy vehicle batteries, or wait around while they recharge. Drivers can rent batteries and replace a discharged battery for a newly charged one in under 2 minutes at the various battery stations.
Zembo also offers an affordable lease-to-own solution where drivers who lease vehicles become owners after 2 years. Furthermore drivers do not need to buy batteries but rent them out, and with the reduction of electric vehicle costs, over 60% more income can be generated by drivers.
Zembo hires local talent to assemble the bikes, and in the future they hope motorcycles can be produced entirely in Uganda to create further job opportunities, reduce dependency on imports and allow easier repairs.
Given the importance of informal transport in Africa, and the fact that East Africa alone has 3 million people who earn their livelihood as boda boda drivers, with millions of people who rely on them for getting around - Zembo plans to scale and expand to other African countries.
Although some of these countries may be tough nuts to crack, as Africa is lagging behind in the electric revolution - we believe Zembo is stepping in the right direction and bringing important socio-economic and environmental benefits, with a notable increase in drivers’ income whilst reducing noise and CO2 emissions.
We would like to give special thanks to the work of Zembo for facilitating the transition to renewable energy and as such, avoiding the depletion of natural resources to tackle climate change.
Zembo is one of our social business startups from our corporate impact accelerator MAN Impact Accelerator. If you wish to get in contact, please reach out to Solene, Head of Impact Accelerator Communications.
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