In 2019 alone, air pollution was responsible for around 5,000 premature deaths in Kenya. Getting more electric motorcycles on the road has become a solution to reduce this toll.
The streets of downtown Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, may not be the place you want to take a deep breath. Air pollution is increasing, caused mainly by motorcycle taxis, also known as bodaboda. In 2018, the number of newly registered motorcycles, commonly used as taxis or boda boda was estimated at 1.5 million.
Joyce Msuya, the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme believes the figure "will likely grow to five time million by 2030."
Cut the smog
Swedish-Kenyan electric vehicle group – Opibus, is at work to cut the smog. In a Nairobi-based workshop, ingeniers convert motors with a combution engine into electric motorcycles.
"Uber provides obviously a lot of boda boda riders, that’s our target client, Alex Pitkin, Opibus Chief Technology Officer say. They often don’t know how beneficial electric motorcycles can be in terms of money saving, safety, fuel savings, maintenance savings…"
Josephat Mutiso, is marking his fifth year in the motorcycle taxi business with a brand new electric motorcycle: "You just have the throttle, no clutch. The only thing you are focusing on is just the front brake and the rear brake. That way it gives you even more control of the bike. And it is pretty light, it does not vibrate. So even clients like this one better."
For Mutiso there has never been a better time for business. "Everything I used to earn and save for the maintenance of the bike, right now I’m saving it. So right now, I’m making more", he says.
The developing climate crisis is fuelling concerns over greenhouse gas emissions and the world is looking for solutions towards a net zero economy. Once seemingly farfetched in the developing world, clean mobility is quickly becoming a priority here according to Lucy Mugala, engineer at Opibus.
"Targeting Africa and African countries is also part of that movement, and as Opibus, that is where we are targeting. We want all of us to move together. We all move towards a greener energy, a greener economy. And we can only do that if we all come together and empower and build capacity locally."
In 2019 alone, air pollution was responsible for around 5,000 premature deaths in Kenya according to the State of the Global Air report of 2020. And with up to a third of the country’s population suffering from respiratory ailments exacerbated by poor air quality; electric mobility brings hope of both health and wealth for the country.