ZEMBO: The Future of East African Transportation


Green People’s Energy for Africa, April 2021

Air pollution and carbon emissions have been pressing issues in environmental sustainability for decades now, but few regions experience these to the level that Kampala, Uganda does. According to World Health Organization guidelines, the air quality in Uganda is at an unsafe level and is a serious antagonist to the health of its population. The air contains 50 µg/m3 of PM2.5 (particulate matter pollution), which is 5 times the upper threshold of safe pollution levels. The capital’s most utilized form of transportation, a motorcycle taxi service known as “boda boda”, has been a major contribution to carbon emissions and declining air quality. In a 2018 study conducted by Makerere University, it was found that these boda boda motorcycles produce a high of 240 mg/m3 of CO2 gasses, which when scaled to over 600,000 vehicles in Uganda, creates a significant threat to local and global environment. Sadly, 25% of Ugandan adult deaths from stroke, 24% from heart disease, and 29% from lung disease are attributable to the level of pollution in the air (WHO).


Motorcycle addressing environmental concerns

Understanding the dangerous implications caused by this popular form of travel, engineers Daniel Dreher and Etienne Saint-Sernin created the Zembo Motorcycle, a fully electric e-motorcycle that is rechargeable through solar energy. Zembo has offered current boda boda drivers access to these more environmentally responsible vehicles along with multiple solar charging stations in an effort to change the carbon footprint that Ugandan travel tends to disregard. The vehicle employs efficient and high-capacity lithium batteries which allow for 3-4 hours of service, or 50-80 kilometer journeys on average before needing a recharge. Additionally, Zembo has created a battery-swap system that allows for drivers to substitute their batteries for a fully-charged one at the solar stations, so that no time or profits are lost by waiting.


Zembo parts are imported from China but are fully assembled locally in Uganda, allowing for a lower cost offering to drivers than the traditional motorcycles. Since many boda boda drivers have relied on driving to keep themselves and their families fed, it’s even more impressive that they are given the more cost-effective option to lease the e-motorcycles. This option also allows drivers to become full owners of the vehicle after 24 months of leasing, which is a significant asset to financially concerned locals. In addition, they reap the benefits of costless solar charging as an alternative to refilling the bikes with expensive gasoline, which is at a current rate of $4.54/gal in the Ugandan capital. At the bottom line, Zembo has calculated that drivers have been able to increase their take-home profits by approximately 60%.


Making tangible changes in ordinary peoples' lives

Zembo is changing the lives of so many locals by increasing their standard of living, reducing stress due to income uncertainty, and countering respiratory and cardiovascular diseases caused by pollutants in the air. The company is backed by multiple environmental NGOs as well as certain ecological departments of the French government, including Ademe, Ministère de la Transition Écologique et Solidaire, BPI France, NDF EEP Africa, and others. With a total of 3 million boda boda drivers in East Africa, the potential for this product is limitless, and founders Daniel Dreher and Etienne Saint - are placing more Zembo motorcycles on the African roads to increase their share of the market and combat environmental degradation. To learn more about this innovation in African sustainability and support the cause, visit Zembo at https://www.zem.bo.