After years of lagging behind their European, American and Asian counterparts, African cities have recently turned their attention to the importance of connecting smaller cities to larger urban centers like Addis Ababa, Cairo, Kigali, and Nairobi, to name a few. While cities like Kisumu City in Kenya have benefited from simply upgrading their road network, others, like Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, stand to benefit from large-scale Chinese investment in transportation on the continent. In fact, in the last 15 years, the road sector has been the busiest and the most progressive sector in Africa.
On the flipside, and while all of this road development is creating improved transport networks for goods and people, safety, security and connectedness still lag behind. According to the World Health Organization, there are 26.6 road traffic deaths in Africa per 100,000 people, compared with 17.4 per 100,000 globally. With last mile issues plaguing commuters across the continent and government efforts to provide urban transport falling short, the way has been paved for startups and civil society to step in and help create a more connected urban future.
Mozambikes in Mozambique
The co-founders of Mozambikes, Rui Mesquita and Lauren Thomas, were inspired by throngs of people in Mozambique walking miles and miles with heavy loads on their heads or their backs under the scorching sun. When they established their social enterprise in 2010 to help these hardworking laborers, they went to factories in the private sector and offered them low-cost solutions in the form of bikes for laborers at half the market price. The bikes include advertising banners that businesses can use to raise their brand equity while cyclers commute to and from work or make deliveries.
SafeMotos in Kigali
According to the World Health Organization, motorcyclists make up 23 percent of all road traffic deaths. With 25,000 registered users, Kigali-born SafeMotos is providing Rwandans with an online motorcycle taxi platform that connects riders and motorbike drivers via their mobile ride-hailing app, with the aim of providing safer transportation. From the data collected on drivers’ smartphones, the motorbike ride-hailing app is able to rank drivers by safety scores – a score that drivers are required to maintain to keep their jobs. After HIV, road deaths are Africa’s second biggest killer. “In Rwanda, a motorist is 700 times more likely to be killed in an accident than in the UK. That isn’t a typo, 700 times. In Kigali 80 percent of accidents involve motorcycle taxis,” reads the company’s website.
CladLight in Nairobi
Founded in 2013, Nairobi-born CladLight raised $41,000 through a crowdfunding campaign with the help of Nailab. CladLight provides motor-bikers and cyclists with smart vests to increase their visibility to vehicle drivers to avoid road accidents. The vest is equipped with an electronic gadget featuring bright LED lights that clearly show when the rider intends to turn or stop. It is also equipped with a GPS tracker, allowing owners to determine the bike’s location.
Mellowcabs in Cape Town
Founded in 2012, Cape-Town-born Mellowcabs both manufactures and operates high-tech electric pedicabs. It considers itself a public transportation company, providing first and last mile transport services. “Our main source of income is not carrying passengers, but selling advertising space on, and in the vehicles,” the startup says.
Mellowcabs can operate in a limited urban radius of 3 to 4 kilometers (1.8 to 2.5 miles), and they are neither meant nor designed to compete with other transport systems such as trains, buses or taxis, but rather go hand in hand and compliment existing means of transportation. A single Mellowcab can drive over 120 kilometers (74.6 miles) per day. All Mellowcabs are equipped with on-board tablet computers with an augmented real-time facility, geo-activation advertising, and full social media integration. Moreover, they’re also environment-friendly, as the vehicles are made out of recycled materials.
GoMyWay in Lagos
To help road traffic, this Nigerian startup kicked off in 2015 to connect commuters and encourage them to share rides instead of jamming the roads with half-empty cars. “We identified the need for a more efficient transport system that is cost affordable, efficient, safe and convenient,” says Damilola Teidi, the CEO and founder of Gomyway. The startup was not the first one of its kind in Nigeria; when it came to market, there was an already established ride sharing app – Jekalo. However, Jekalo is more focused on inter-city errands in Lagos, as opposed to Gomyway, which has a nationwide approach with a special focus on students. “We knew how big a problem the transport system is in the country and wanted to provide a solution,” she adds.