Taking advantage of Uganda's strategic position on the Equator

Kayoola, meaning “mass carrier,” is the name of Africa’s first solar-powered bus developed by Kiira Motors in Uganda. Kiira Motors grew out of a project at Uganda’s Makerere University, which is now a shareholder in the company, and the Kayoola project has benefitted from substantial government funding. Development of the Kayoola bus takes advantage of Uganda’s geographical position on the Equator. Said Mr. Musasizi, the CEO of Kiira Motors, “in Uganda, we have non-stop sun. No other countries manufacturing vehicles are on the equator like Uganda. We should celebrate that, and make a business out of it.”

The Kayoola bus can travel up to fifty miles straight and is powered by two batteries. Because of the restrictions on how far it can travel, the Kayoola is intended for urban areas rather than inter-city use and can seat thirty-five people. One battery is connected to solar panels on the roof, while the other is charged electrically for longer distances and journeys at night. The roofing material and stainless battery banks are locally sourced and assembled by a team of about 100 Ugandans who do the welding, spraying, and wiring, among other assembly for the bus. Only the synthetic leather, tires, steering wheel, and software are imported, meaning over ninety percent of the material used to manufacture the bus was sourced locally. Kiira reports that by 2039 the company will be able to manufacture all the parts and assemble the vehicle in Uganda.

According to Professor Tickodri-Togboa, the Minister of State for Higher Education, Science, and Technology, the Kayoola bus represents an “alternative, locally-sourced eco-friendly public transport solution.” Kiira Motors is at the forefront of Uganda’s solar-powered automobile industry and highlights the high levels of sustainable innovation taking place in Uganda. The ultimate goal is for Uganda’s automobile industry to be completely solar-powered, and Kiira Motor’s vision is for every gas station in Uganda to charge vehicles via solar pumps instead of fuel. Mr. Musasizi has said he wants the Kayoola bus to help the country “champion the automotive, engineering, and manufacturing industries” in the region. Manufacturing of the Kayoola is predicted to employ, both directly and indirectly, over 7,000 people by 2018. Kiira’s initial plans are to produce fifty buses per year at the price of $58,000, a competitive market price according to Mr. Musasizi.

Technological advancement in the automobile industry is of critical importance to Uganda’s economy because of the more than $493 million per annum costs and insurance of vehicle imports and the more than $2 billion per annum costs in the larger East African Community. Thus Kiira Motors is contributing to what Professor Tickodri-Togboa characterizes as Uganda’s vision of “a sustainable and deep-rooted domestic automotive industry, positioned strategically into the global automotive industry value chain with emphasis on sub-Saharan Africa.” Manufacture of the Kayoola bus has also raised the regional standard in East and Central Africa by setting a precedent for green technological advancement in the automobile industry.

As the continent where the sun’s influence is the greatest, Africa is aptly referred to as the “Sun Continent.” In the absence of the hundreds of billions of dollars needed to build new power grids, local, green-friendly, alternative forms of power are necessary for increasing access to electricity. Solar energy will be a key element of Africa’s future and the Kayoola bus sets a shining example for shifting to renewable energy in Africa as well as advancing manufacturing capacity on the continent.