Electric transport has come to Rwanda.
Car manufacturer Volkswagen has brought its electric E-Golf cars to the streets of Kigali.
Switching from petrol and diesel guzzling vehicles to less polluting electric vehicles has been adopted as a sound environmental move around the world.
But that trend is only just beginning in Africa.
With a population of 1.3 billion – 16 percent of the world’s population – the continent’s transport sector presents a promising and under-explored opportunity for investors.
And Rwanda is the first country in Africa where Volkswagen has introduced its E-Golf – they arrived in October last year.
“Being the first African country with the electric E-Golf is a pride,” says Nadege Gaju, Head of Sales and Marketing, Volkswagen Rwanda.
“We want to be ahead of the trends, we want to protect our environment, we want to make the lives better for the people.”
She says Volkswagen plans to shift sales to exclusively electric cars over the next few years.
Volkswagen also chose Rwanda to test its mobility solution, the ride-hailing app Move.
In Kigali, population 850,000, it has 27,000 registered users who made more than 70,000 journeys with it by the end of 2019.
It now has four E-Golfs available to hire in the service.
And Move customer William Nyagakiza is riding in one today.
Volkswagen plans to increase its electric Move fleet to more than 60 by the end of the year.
“E-Golf is a car which is very, very silent. when you sit in the car you don’t get some noise which disturbs you along your journey,” says Nyagakiza.
Fuel accounts for 12 percent of all imported goods into the country – the largest single product, according to figures from the Rwanda Finance Ministry.
So there is clear financial sense in reducing reliance on petrol.
Moto taxi transport – via motorbikes – is the most common form of transport in Africa, particularly in the west and east regions.
In Rwanda alone, the sector is worth 432 billion Rwandan francs ($599.8 million), according to the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda.
That’s twice the size of the country’s total 2014 exports.
And all those bikes burn a lot of fossil fuels.
But one company has come up with a greener solution.
Ampersand has developed a motorbike taxi that uses electric batteries which can be swapped in and out when they need charging.
Josh Whale, CEO and founder of Ampersand Rwanda Ltd, says the concept could replace 60 percent of Rwanda’s petrol bikes.
After holding trials in Rwanda, Ampersand says it is ready to increase the number of electric moto-taxis on the roads and also expand the business into the East African region.
“Currently we have 20 motorcycle taxis on the road. Since about May of last year, we also have Africa’s first electric motorcycle taxi charging battery swap station. And we also have now covered hundreds of thousands of kilometres, about 400,000 kilometres we think, and we’ve performed over 10,000 battery swaps,” says Whale.
He says 700 drivers are on their waiting list for an electric motorbike.
There are 160,000 moto taxi transporters in Rwanda – mainly young people.
Didier Ntabare is one of them and is already driving an electric bike.
He says there are lots of benefits to them.
“The electric battery of this motorcycle is cheaper when you go to swap than fuel. And many passengers like it, they like how it climb the hill and there’s no ashes, no noise,” he explains.
If motorbikes aren’t your thing, how about an electric bicycle?
Safi Moto Ltd assembles electric scooters and bicycles in Rwanda.
The company’s marketing manager Umuhoza Ella Pamela sees the country as an ideal market for the products.
“We have a big number who need private transport, we don’t have enough buses,” she says.
“That is why we came up with a new idea to bring the electric scooters and bicycles. It is affordable in price for all people and easy to drive.”
So far, around a hundred electric scooters and electric bicycles are in use in Kigali city.
Twenty-two year-old Chelsea Rwemarika says they are very easy to use.
“You don’t have to pedal you just turn on and then you only got to use the brakes, it doesn’t need a lot of skills,” she says.
Rwemarika adds that they are much cheaper than motorbikes or cars.
The company is still in its trial phase but expects to tap into the increasing need for transportation means as the population rises.
Rwanda is trying to reduce fossil fuel usage and encourage private investment in e-mobility solutions as part of a drive towards a greener economy by 2030.