By Mark Kawalya
Zembo, a locally based startup, is working to reduce Kampala’s motorbike carbon emissions by offering clean energy bikes that are powered by electricity to boda boda riders.
The startup was founded by two engineers, Daniel Dreher and Etienne, who believe their electric motorcycles can be a solution to bringing affordable transportation to everyday Ugandans in a manner that doesn’t degrade the environment.
With support from EEP Africa, Zembo is establishing a network of solar charging stations around Kampala where the Zembo motorcycle’s discharged battery can be swapped with a freshly charged one at a small cost, all in under two minutes.
Dubbed as the Zembo Storm, the e-bike has a use range of 60 km on a single charge. The firm has deployed more than 200 e-bikes on Ugandan roads and has plans to grow its charging stations to 700 within the next five years.
The head of portfolio and finance at EEP Africa Lauri Tuomaala said that although Zembo is a new firm and doesn’t have a track record, EEP Africa believes their idea has the potential to revolutionize the e-mobility market in East Africa,
“The focus on building local skills and capacity by assembling and repairing the bikes in Kampala was also attractive in terms of long-term sustainability. Since the project started, the local government authorities have seen the climate potential for this technology and have partnered with Zembo,” said Tuomaala.
Boda boda’s (motorcycle taxis) are a crucial form of transportation in many parts of East Africa and a leading source of noise and air pollution. Green energy solutions for this sector could offer opportunities that would cut down on the carbon footprint in these cities while also providing sustainable income-generating ventures for many youths.
Zembo offers a lease-to-own solution that allows riders who lease the motorcycles to eventually own them after making payments over two years. Because riders simply swap batteries and do not need to buy them, they can generate 60% more income as the necessity of buying fuel is eliminated.
Currently, the motorcycles are assembled, in Uganda, giving employment to local talent, although their parts are imported from China. The bikes are durable, noise-free and have an automatic transmission, making it easier for new riders to operate them. In the future, the firm hopes the e-bikes can be entirely produced in Uganda to create more jobs for locals and allow easier repairs.
Uganda is East Africa’s largest importer of motorcycles, with over 600,000 bikes imported so far. In Kampala, more than 150,000 riders earn their bread and butter from working as boda boda riders in the metropolis and are one of the main drivers of the economy.