Going green

Kenyan Startups Aim For Driver’s Seat In Africa’s Electric Mobility Scene

By  |  August 24, 2022

Since 2020 when the Kenyan government began to make a significant effort at pushing initiatives that promote the manufacture and use of electric vehicles (EVs), the country has become something of the unofficial testbed for Africa’s nascent EV market. And besides world-leading car makers, local startups are making their presence felt.

Most recently, Roam, EV manufacturing company in Kenya, announced Rome Rapid, a 90-seater electric bus for public transport in the country, adding to a similar development recorded a few months prior. In March, BasiGo had made a mark as the first startup to introduce an electric passenger bus in Kenya. The buses, which have a range of 250 kilometers on a single charge, are built locally with components developed by Chinese auto supplier, BYD.

Previously, Roam (then known as Opibus) made history in Kenya in 2017 by converting ageing combustion buses into electric vehicles, making it the first company in the country to do so commercially. Since then, some 170 cars have reportedly been transformed.

The East African country is also home to several active EV players like Opibus, Kiri, Nopea Ride, EVM Africa, Caetano, and Agilitee Africa. Together, these companies are building the infrastructure necessary for EVs adoption in Kenya.

Kenya is ideally positioned to develop an extraordinarily green EV market, notwithstanding the reality that EVs do have certain environmental consequences due to the effects of mining and processing lithium, nickel, cobalt, and other required metals.

The country’s ‘EV-viability’ is supported by the fact that around 90 percent of the country’s electricity came from renewable sources in 2020, sourced from hydropower, geothermal energy, solar photovoltaic energy, and wind energy. By 2030, Kenya targets entire dependence on clean energy.

This is likely to prove some task, though. With around 1,000 EVs operating this year out of a total of 12 million cars, South Africa is currently the continent’s largest market for EVs. Out of 2.2 million registered vehicles, there are reportedly 350 EVs in Kenya, reflecting the amount of work to be done.

On the other hand, East Africa’s EV development is currently being led by Rwanda and Uganda. In addition to lowering power rates for EVs, eliminating the VAT on EV parts, exempting EVs from import and excise taxes, and providing land free of charge for charging stations, they have also enacted a number of other legislative initiatives.

However, the Kenyan government appears to be increasingly borrowing some of the ideas, as part of efforts to expand EV ownership to 5 percent of all registered vehicles in Kenya by 2025. The emergence of a potentially lucrative market is being keenly observed by both multinational corporations and local startups.

Africa’s potential EV boom offers more than simply a chance to make cities cleaner and transportation more efficient. Local manufacturing can also offer employment in the green industries that African economies are increasingly focusing on for expansion.

However, access to and the ability to generate electricity remains a niggling concern across the continent. With the lowest power availability rate of any continent, Africa is home to well more than half a billion people who lack access to electricity. This obstacle remains a daunting challenge.

A sub-segment of mobility, Africa’s electric mobility venture attracted USD 10 M in investment last year. Climate change is a hot topic and more than crucial for countries to start curbing factors that lead to aggravating the issue.

Bearing the ‘leap-frogging’ tendencies of African markets in mind, it’s quite possible that electric mobility could become a focus sector – especially as East African countries are moving the needle with Rwandan and Kenyan startups launching services in the market with Ampersand, Ecobodaa, Roam, and BasiGo.

Feature Image Credits: ET Auto

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