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How to advance sustainable transport policies in Africa?

On 5th May 2021, legislators from Ghana, Liberia, Mauritius, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania and The Gambia participated in a discussion with Dr. Pawan Goenka, former Managing Director of Mahindra & Mahindra. Dr Goenka outlined the ways in which the Indian automobile sector is working to reduce its carbon emissions, primarily through the transition to electric vehicles (EVs), and how these strategies could be implemented in Africa.

Dr. Goenka informed the parliamentarians present that road transport currently accounts for 7-8% of global CO2 emissions. This figure could be significantly reduced through the electrification of transport. Some common misconceptions about EVs have created a barrier to the wider deployment of EVs, such as cost and lack of adequate charging infrastructure. Dr. Goenka clarified a number of these misconceptions, noting firstly that EVs are significantly cleaner than other vehicles, even if one takes the CO2 emissions from power generation into account and secondly, that the import of lithium will not be as expensive as the import of oil. While many believe that India may not have sufficient energy to power EVs, Dr Goenka explained that, in fact, 10 million EVs in operation across India would consume only 3.2% of the country’s total generation capacity. He also emphasised that EVs are not only for the wealthy as they have the potential to be extremely utilitarian. This is particularly true of two and three wheeled vehicles and with shared transport. For a smooth transition to EVs, stable policies and regulatory road-mapping, along with fiscal and non-fiscal government incentives, are necessary. All of this requires a 360-degree engagement between different stakeholders, including the private sector and local authorities.

In the discussion that followed, the parliamentarians agreed that favourable regulatory frameworks and the implementation of sufficient charging infrastructure are needed to support a transition to EVs at the local, national and regional levels. The parliamentarians present raised concerns about the lack of awareness around the long-term benefits of EVs and discussed how they could convince their home governments that investing in the electrification of transport is economically viable. They also stressed that the cost of EVs remains high in relation to the average living wage in many places, and thus poses a barrier to progress. It was agreed that government subsidies and tax exemptions are necessary to develop the market for EVs in Africa.

According to Dr. Goenka, in order to make EVs mainstream in Africa, legislators need to identify the right incentives to convince their governments. For example, in India, the reduction of crude oil import and of CO2 emissions were decisive factors for the government in supporting a wider transition to EVs. There is potential for a rapid shift to EVs in Africa, especially for two and three wheelers and shared mobility, as studies have shown the return on investment to be faster than for heavy vehicles. Dr. Goenka concluded that the transition to EVs is not merely about transportation, it is about transforming mobility, health, and energy security.


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