Rwanda’s pilot program hopes to advance clean transport.
The African continent has the potential to leapfrog past many of the imperfect technologies that contributed to the fossil-fuel driven climate crisis, instead adopting renewable energy to deliver much-needed power and engaging in mobile-driven finance.
Yet transportation remains a challenge, especially because so many old cars get dumped in African nations with lower emissions and fuel standards. Electric vehicles (EVs) are part of the solution, and Rwanda is the first African nation to host a Volkswagen EV pilot project in its capital city of Kigali.
The project, also launched in partnership with Siemens, was announced recently by Rwandan Prime Minister Édouard Ngirente. “These and other initiatives demonstrate that we are committed to not only adopting but also driving technological advances that transform our economy,” said Ngirente.
Rwanda’s national development plan calls for climate resilience and the adoption of a low-carbon economy. “This includes building smart (integrated) cities, smart transport facilities and services, as well as the use of ICT and digital solutions,” the prime minister explained.
The pilot phase of the program – a logical next step in Rwanda, where Volkswagen has production facilities – will begin with an EV charging station and four e-Golf units. The goal is to expand the project to 50 EVs and 15 charging stations, depending on the results of the pilot and a related feasibility study.
“Rwanda has the potential to leapfrog the internal combustion engines into electric cars,” said Thomas Schäfer, the CEO of Volkswagen South Africa who is responsible for the company in the region. “Rwanda has a young and progressive population that appreciates individual and modern mobility.”
The clean-transport transition is expected to help reduce the vehicle-related greenhouse gas emissions that plague Africa and Southeast Asia because of “clunker” cars dumped by the developed world. A 2018 report from the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment in India found that about 4 percent of the world’s cars reach the end of their design lives each year, amounting to some 40 million vehicles.
The old vehicles dumped in Africa primarily come from Japan, Germany, the United States and South Korea, and are kept on the road in other countries despite the public health and environmental implications.
Anumita Roychowdhury, the CSE executive director, points to several reasons for this practice: cheap car prices, poor environmental regulation in some nations, and the cost of domestic disposal of vehicles.
“In high income exporting countries it is more lucrative and cost-effective to export used vehicles than scrap them,” Roychowdhury explains. “If this continues unchecked, without the exporting countries sharing the responsibility of addressing this problem, the poorer countries will not be able to meet their clean air and climate mitigation goals.”
That’s a key reason for the partnership with Volkswagen and Siemens, but it also reflects efforts by the German government and spearheaded by Chancellor Angela Merkel to honor the G20 “Compact With Africa” and invest in African economic development.
“German development cooperation supports innovative ideas for vocational education and environmentally friendly mobility concepts for African cities,” said Dr. Gerd Müller, Germany’s Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development. “In this respect, initiatives such as Moving Rwanda are yet another step towards implementing the Marshall Plan with Africa.”