Being the magnet for jobs, economic activities and livelihoods, the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area (GKMA), unsurprisingly, has nearly half of all vehicles registered in Uganda. To combat the negative impacts of increased motorization in Kampala, municipal and national transportation authorities have supported a number of projects promoting sustainable transportation, with the goal of reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality—for example, reorganization and registration of informal paratransit services in Kampala, promotion of e-buses serving the central business district, and construction of non- motorized transportation infrastructure such as protected pedestrian walkways, bicycle lanes and pedestrian zones.
Electric mobility (e-mobility) plays an important role in achieving sustainable mobility in Uganda, and electrification of transportation modes is growing around the world. E-mobility is defined as the movement of goods and people provided by electric vehicles (EVs) that use energy stored in batteries to power the motor. The batteries are charged externally, using electricity. In Uganda, this electricity is predominantly generated from renewable energy sources, making the prospect of e-mobility truly green.
The city is making great effort to embrace e-mobility, most notably through e-bus and e-motorcycle projects. These initiatives and others are moving the city towards more sustainable mobility, but these pilot efforts need to be implemented at scale and coordinated across modes.
E-mobility in Kampala today
Uganda’s e-mobility ecosystem is nascent and diverse, and the pace of interest in the industry is advancing quickly. The country is home to the first electric bus manufactured in Africa, such pioneering effort paralleled only by South Africa and Ethiopia that assemble small quantities of electric cars. This achievement is partially propelled by Kampala’s emerging reputation as a hub for entrepreneurship and startups within East Africa.1 2
As of December 2020, there are two known private sector companies and one parastatal company specializing in e-mobility services, as well as various academic and development initiatives researching and promoting e-mobility:
- Zembo introduced e-motorcycles to Uganda’s boda-boda sector in 2019. As of July 2020, Zembo has deployed 20 e-motorcycles, serviced by 6 solar-recharge stations. Vehicle components are imported from China and assembled in Uganda and sold to boda-boda drivers on a lease-to-own basis whereby the swappable batteries are re-charged and owned by Zembo. The company is partnering with Tugende, an asset financer specialized in motorcycles, over a pilot to bring a minimum of 50 e- motorcycles to the city in 2021.
- Bodawerk retrofits existing bodas’ petrol-driven power engines with electric ones. The lithium-ion battery packs are assembled and leased to boda drivers using battery swapping or at-home-charging options.
- Kiira Motors has manufactured a limited number of electric private vehicles and one solar-electric powered e-bus.3 Kiira Motors started in 2007 as a research project in Makerere University, Uganda, and the Kiira EV Project led to the establishment of Kiira Motors Corporation in 2011, owned jointly by the Government of Uganda (96%) and Makerere University (4%).
In addition, there are a small, and unknown, number electric and hybrid bicycles, motorcycles and private vehicles in Uganda, imported by private individuals and vehicle dealerships.4 This number is expected to 1grow as both bicycle and motorcycle companies have expressed plan to companies such as Ultimate Cycling Uganda and the non-governmental organization, FABIO,5 have expressed plans to increase the number of e-bicycles imported and distributed in the country.
Looking to the Future
Uganda can leapfrog to electrification of transportation, using EVs as a key element in creating more sustainable cities. This requires development of policies and an environment that support e-mobility innovation, open and collaborative partnerships between public-, private- and research-sectors, and availability of appropriate technical and financial support for EV industry development.
Figure 1. Key steps in growing Uganda’s e-mobility system
Enabling policies and regulations
Regulatory support can come in the form of incentive programs for companies and end-users, grants, or loosening policies to allow for innovation and exchange of ideas across the industry, and have been proven to incentivize industry research, product development and public awareness. These can be informed by stakeholder input, especially from private sector vehicle manufacturers and users, to identify e-mobility policy priorities and opportunities for government-led e-mobility programs.
A sustainable e-mobility system includes regulations supporting second life battery usage, and encourages universal charging infrastructure standards in order to improve access to EVs and mitigate negative impacts of e-waste. Policies that support training schemes for local assembly and maintenance of electric engines are also of paramount. Countries around the world are adopting such policies which encourage e-mobility use.
Figure 2. Enabling policies around the world
Increasing Production of EV’s
Increasing User Adoption of EV’s
– Subsidies and import tax/VAT waivers (e.g. in China)
– National-level electric mobility strategy or implementation plan (e.g. in India)
– Retrofit existing vehicles from combustion engines to electric motors (e.g. in Uganda & Kenya)
– Distributed, convenient and affordable access to charging including design
of interchangeable charging infrastructure
– Carbon feature rebate scheme in 2011, 50% exercise duty waiver on electric and hybrid cars and registration (Mauritius)
– Transition government-owned or private sector vehicle fleets
to electric vehicles (Transport for London, Ikea and Amazon)
– Legislation requiring transition of private sector transportation and/or freight fleets to electric vehicles (e.g.,
taxis, public transport).
– Tax credits/savings for EV purchase.
– Providing parking fee discounts to EVs
Furthermore, widespread access to EVs will not be achieved without expansion and improvements to the electricity distribution network in Uganda. The reliability of the grid and affordability of electricity access will be critical in facilitating a transition from combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles.
Funding Support & Capacity Building
Despite the growth potential of e-mobility in Uganda, the sector is hindered by a lack of funding for advancement of research, product development and service provision. Significant investments are required to support infrastructure critical for first movers to capture or grow the market. Available government subsidy, grant and patient capital providers can support start-ups and various initiative to test their ideas and generate the nascent sector’s much-needed proof points to unlock future capital.
Supporting entrepreneurial e-mobility activities is also important. This includes financing early-stage accelerator and incubator programs for e-mobility related enterprises, which offer a venue for capacity building, mentorship, peer-learning and networking opportunities to the sector.
Collaboration to Share Learnings & Research
Formal and informal collaboration among stakeholders—including regulators, policymakers, university and research centers, NGOs and private sector investors—is essential for the sustainable EV ecosystem development in Uganda. An approach would be to establish platforms, forums, and coalitions to enable knowledge sharing and to identify actionable initiatives to move forward Uganda’s emerging EV sector.
For all the potential impacts, a transition towards e-mobility will take time, and usually occurs through phased implementation of infrastructure upgrades and vehicle adoption, supported by evolving regulatory frameworks and innovative and traditional financing.
Given Uganda’s growing reputation as a hub for entrepreneurship and innovation, the country has the potential to solve its complex transportation challenges through clean and multi-modal mobility solutions, while providing jobs and growing local economies.
World Resources Institute, Shell Foundation, and Cities and Infrastructure for Growth (CIG) Uganda are working together to promote e-mobility development in Uganda. Please contact us to read our research about potential benefits of a sustainable e-mobility system in Uganda, and trends in other cities around the world. Interested stakeholders are invited to join a growing coalition working towards e-mobility in Uganda. For more information, please contact Anna.Oursler.firstname.lastname@example.org.