The Time is Ripe for Electric Two Wheelers in Africa


The focus on urban transport and clean mobility is pertinent to Africa as its urban share is expected to more than double by 2030 (African Development Bank, 2017).  Africa which is urbanizing faster than any other region in the world is undergoing a mobility revolution. This revolution is spurred by significant economic and technological growth as well as increasing rates of motorization, which at over 10% in most countries are the highest in the world. The growth in petrol-fueled motorcycles constitutes much of this increase in motorization, surpassing passenger cars and tripling its market in certain regions (KONEKSIE, 2015) over the last decade.

Figure 2: Motorcycle market by region and engine displacement

Source: Yamaha Annual Report 2016, International Motorcycle Manufacturer Association

Two-wheelers are projected to become the major mode of transport in Africa, second only to walking and cycling.  While Asia has the lion’s share of the global motorcycle fleet, growth rates of motorcycles in many African countries are some of the highest in the world. In recent years, more motorcycles where imported into Kenya and Uganda than cars. This high demand is due to the collapse of  formal public transport systems and consequent traffic congestion, coupled with the relative affordability and easy operability of motorcycles.

The transport sector is the highest contributor of energy- related greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in most African countries. This is due to the lack of vehicle emissions standards or fuel economy regulations governing the intake and maintenance of vehicles. These regulatory and policy shortfalls allow for the presence of technologically outdated and high emitting vehicles on Africa’s roads.

Although motorcycle CO2 emissions are below that of cars, they emit high levels of black carbon, a potent short-lived climate pollutant. In fact, two-stroke motorcycle engines can emit more small particulates than a heavy diesel truck.



Figure 2: Comparison of Emissions

Source: UN Environment 2017

Addressing motorcycle emissions is a priority for improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Africa. This is especially relevant in East African cities were the growth of motorcycle fleets is greatest and were the transport sector greenhouse  emissions can be as high as 70%.  According to the International Energy Agency, limiting the global temperature increase to below 2C will require at least 20% of all road transport to be electrically driven by 2030. As such, a significant shift to electric mobility must occur in developing and transitional countries, as these will comprise the majority of the global vehicle fleet in 2050. The timing is right for Africa to leapfrog to low to zero electric mobility.


Africa is ready for an electric shift

Electric motorcycles are cost competitive and require little investment in charging infrastructure compared to electric cars, as such they represent a ‘stepping stone’ or ‘low hanging fruit’ to the wider electrification of transport.

Africa’s renewable energy potential is becoming increasingly prevalent and accessible and expects predicated growth. In East Africa – Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda – renewable energy represents approximately 99%, 73% and 79% and 57% respectively of the electricity generation energy mix. In these countries, the use of electric motorcycles can lower greenhouse gas emissions up to 30 times compared to conventional two-wheelers.

Figure 3: Cost comparison of gasoline and electric motorcycles.

Source: Own analysis


Electric motorcycles are cost competitive at prices of around USD 1,200 to USD 3,000, depending on the segment, and reach relative cost parity with ICE models, making them affordable and attractive to consumers in Africa. The higher upfront costs level out with lower fuel and maintenance costs over time.

Electric motorcycles require no dedicated charging infrastructure and can be charged at home through the grid. In areas with no power supply, solar panels could be utilized for recharging: One 300 W solar panel at approximately USD 270 could charge a two to three kWh battery in about seven to ten hours.

Electric motorcycles have no tailpipe emissions and help reducing urban air pollution since emissions occurring during conventional power generation are released outside urban areas. Every year, about 712,000 people die prematurely of air pollution in Africa, costing the continent an estimated USD 215 million annually (Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, 2014).  UN Environment has coined air pollution as Africa’s “invisible, silent killer.”


UN Environment, e-MOB 2& 3 Wheeler Program

Given the exponential growth of gasoline and diesel fueled light duty vehicle fleets in developing and transitional countries; UN Environment’s, Electric Mobility program is supporting over 50 countries on their way to introduction electric mobility. The program is based on three pillars of work namely: electric light duty vehicles, electric buses and electric 2&3 wheelers.  It contributes to UN Environment’s work on air quality, in specific the UN Environment Assembly’s Air Quality Resolution, as well as the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement.

UN Environment is kicking off its 2&3 wheeler work in 8 countries i.e. Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Morocco, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. The support is funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the Hewlett foundation as well as the Mohammed VI Foundation for Environmental Protection.

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