Uganda and Rwanda lead East Africa in switch to electric cars

Saturday November 30 2019

Volkswagen’s e-Golf was launched in Kigali in October. Uganda and Rwanda have unveiled electric vehicle assembly plants. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | NMG


Uganda and Rwanda are racing ahead of their East African neighbours in the global switch to electric motoring, even as infrastructure shortcomings limit investments in the emerging sector.

Both Kampala and Kigali have unveiled electric vehicle assembly plants in the past two months, blazing the regional trail with Kenya and Tanzania only making baby steps toward embracing the new technology.

Uganda’s state-owned Kiira Motors Corporation has so far shown the biggest ambition in the region by building two battery-powered cars and a solar electric bus.

The electric bus, called the Kayoola Electric Vehicle Series (EVS), has been built using Kiira Motors home-grown green mobility technologies while partnering with Chinese Equipment Manufacturer, Motor Co. Ltd.

The buses can cover a distance of 300km under a single charge and have a capacity of 90 passengers (49 sitting and 41 standing), compared with the diesel engine ones which have a capacity of 65 passengers.

Last year Uganda committed nearly Ush24 billion ($6.4 million) to put the first fully home-made car on the road. The amount is part of a planned Ush145 billion ($39 million) spending over four years, 2018 to 2022.


In Rwanda, German automaker Volkswagen started assembling electric vehicles in Kigali in October this year, with the German power equipment firm Siemens planning to set up 15 charging stations in the Rwandan capital.

This comes after a local Rwandan firm, Ampersand, started selling electric bikes powered by batteries that can last for about 75km of riding.

East Africa’s uptake of electrical vehicles however remains extremely low compared to global leaders, according to Global EV Outlook report 2019.

Lack of investment in charging infrastructure and absence of fiscal incentives such as subsidies and rebates on vehicle acquisition taxes, and lower toll or parking fees are to blame, the report launched by the International Energy Agency states.


It notes that scaling up of EV adoption in the region requires measures that provide incentives to increase the availability of vehicles with zero and low tailpipe emissions including massive investments in charging infrastructure installations on highways and in buildings.

“We must address the issues of infrastructure and energy because these vehicles need energy and space for charging. The government should also consider tax incentives to attract investors and even buyers of electric vehicles,” said the Group chief executive of Nairobi-based motor dealer Simba Colt, Dinesh Kotecha, in an interview.

In Kenya, Finnish firm EkoRent introduced a fully electric taxi dubbed Nopia Ride last year. The firm has installed five charging stations in three locations, including the Two Rivers Mall, the Hub Karen and Thika Road Mall.

The Tanzanian government last year approved an initial roll-out of electric Safari vehicle at its flagship national park of Serengeti in an effort to reduce gas emissions.

The Mount Kilimanjaro Safari Club became the first tour company in Tanzania to release a 100 per cent electric Safari cars in the region.

Tanzania is reportedly seeking to power its electric cell driven vehicles through mass production of graphite minerals, with plans to build four of such factories in the country.

In Ethiopia plans are underway for a local electric vehicle assembler—Tom Renewable Electric Bike Assembly & Sales—to start production in the country.

The electric vehicles can go up to 40Km/h and are charged using standard 220v electric outlets. The vehicles take between four and six hours to get fully charged and can travel up to 60km on one charge.

It is estimated that Ethiopia spends $3 billion annually to import fuel, pushing its annual spending up by 10 per cent. Japanese Firm Mitsui and Co.

The company in April made a successful trial for a three-wheels electric car in Addis Ababa. The electric car called ‘E-trike ‘has five dedicated batteries, each with a capacity to go 80 kms with a single charge.

The company has plans to establish an assembly plant in Ethiopia.

Two decades ago, the world decided it was going electric and in 2009 a multi-governmental policy forum was established under the Clean Energy Ministerial to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles worldwide.

The CEM consists of 24 nations and the EU, who together account for 90 per cent of all investment in clean energy in the world and 75 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. So far 13 countries are participating in the EVI including Canada, Chile, China, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and UK.

Electric mobility is expanding at a rapid pace globally, with the total electric car fleet exceeding 5.1 million last year, compared with 3.1 million in 2017.
China remains the world’s largest electric car market, followed by Europe and the US, while Norway is the global leader in terms of electric car market share.