By By BITANGE NDEMO
As the world is resetting, with a focus on green energy, the shift from use of internal combustion engines (ICEs) to electric-powered transportation is also gaining momentum. The number of tech startups in electric mobility is on the rise in Africa, with their focus on two- and three-wheelers.
But despite all these new developments, there seems to be an increase in importation of used legacy cars. Even though the majority of users who buy them at a lower price are happy that they are now driving legacy cars, the continent must begin to discard ICEs, or else it will easily become the dumping site of the world.
As the saying goes, numbers don’t lie. A report by the Engineering News should act as a wake-up call. Last month it reported that 120 electric vehicles (EVs) were sold worldwide in 2012. In 2019, 2.2 million EVs were sold, representing 2.5 percent of global car sales.
A year later, with the car market contracting as a result of Covid-19, the EVs sold jumped to three million or 4.1 percent of the total cars sold worldwide. And by the end of 2021, EV sales more than doubled to 6.6 million or nine percent of the total vehicles sold globally.
In contrast, a McKinsey and Company report on electric transport transition in sub-Saharan Africa reveals that the number of vehicles in the six countries (South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Nigeria) that commands 70 percent of the region’s annual vehicle sales is on the rise. It is expected to grow from 25 million vehicles today to an estimated 58 million vehicles by 2040.
The McKinsey report stresses that the challenge for sub-Saharan Africa as its vehicle fleet grows will be to fight for more sustainable mobility and avoid becoming a dumping site for the world’s unwanted used vehicles.
Studies also reveal that for every gallon of gas which our personal vehicles produce, they release around 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and other emissions, making them a major contributor to global warming.
Currently, transportation accounts for up to 10 percent of Africa’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But as the report further argues, this will invariably change for the worse due to Africa’s unique challenges in the transition to electric mobility.
With the unreliable electricity supply, poor car affordability, and the prevalence of old automobiles, the region should be developing a burgeoning ecosystem, with a focus on areas where the continent has a comparative advantage.
As the world shifts to new energy sources, Africa should not just focus on small issues like Tuk Tuks and boda bodas but become an agenda-setter in the EVs. The continent must seek to play a key role and take advantage of the reset.
For the purpose of clarity, in using the term resetting I mean that Africa should not export raw materials and import EV batteries. We should never repeat the mistakes we made during slavery, colonialism, the Cold War and neo-colonialism. It will be a travesty of the continent’s intellectual capacity growth.
As we seek to deal with issues of climate change, we must maximise the emerging opportunity and the key resources we have. Some of the key ingredients for manufacturing EV batteries come from mostly African countries: Democratic Republic of Congo (cobalt), and Zimbabwe lithium and nickel), Botswana (nickel), and South Africa (nickel). Africa has abundant labour resources, too.
Minerals for EV battery manufacturing is one of the geopolitical pain points between US and China. The Financial Times of May 24, 2018 reported that the then US President Donald Trump had released a list of 35 minerals, including lithium and cobalt, that are, “considered to be critical to the economic and national security of the United States.”
With the world’s geopolitics shaping the future of the world, Africa can benefit from this war on minerals by becoming a major manufacturer.
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