Ethiopia's Electric Dream, a Road Less Travelled

Feb 13 , 2024
By Mikael Alemu

Sitting in Khaldi's Coffee on Airport Road, onlookers can witness an emerging trend of streets scuttling with more electric vehicles (EVs) than one might have encountered in a European city a decade ago. The scene is a story of the rapid development of economies and societies, with Ethiopia embracing electric transportation at an impressive pace.

Countries around the world are increasingly adopting electric vehicles to address climate change and reduce pollution. Western nations, in particular, have set ambitious targets to phase out new internal combustion engine vehicle sales in the coming decades. Norway and the Netherlands, for instance, aim to ban new ICE car sales starting in 2025, while the United Kingdom (UK) plans to allow only electric car sales from 2030, later adjusting this target to 2035.

The European Union has its sights set on an "electric cars only" policy by 2035, and California has outlined targets for zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs) reaching 35pc by 2026 and 100pc by the year 2035.

These commitments reflect the countries' strong economic positions, with GDP per capita figures significantly higher. Norway boasts a GDP per capita (PPP) of 87,495 dollars, and California, if considered independently, would rank at around 80,870 dollars. They also benefit from stringent environmental protections and clean air policies. In contrast, Ethiopia's economic reality paints a different picture. With a GDP per capita (PPP) of 2,922 dollars in 2021, its income and consumption levels are less than five percent of those in the countries mentioned here.

The major sources of air pollution in our cities include wood burning for cooking and emissions from trucks and buses rather than passenger cars.

Given these disparities, Ethiopia's strategy for electric vehicle policy should initially focus on segments that are currently viable, such as urban rickshaws, while gradually building the infrastructure and incentives necessary for the wider adoption of electric passenger vehicles. This approach should align with projected economic growth and the expected increase in GDP per capita to nearly 5,000 dollars by the end of the decade.

Ethiopia's electricity generation capacity, currently at 5,000MW for a population of over 100 million, sharply contrasts with that of countries like the United States, which has 1.3 million megawatts, and the Netherlands, which has 475,000MW. This calls for realistic short-term priorities, with a focus on electrifying three-wheelers, or "bajajes," which are a popular form of urban transportation and contribute significantly to air pollution. The transition to electric bajajs, supported by a network of solar-powered charging stations, could serve as a cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution.

The initiative, coupled with the promotion of electric passenger cars in major cities like Addis Abeba, could be further facilitated through creative financing programs, tax incentives, and the development of public charging infrastructure.

Ethiopia could aim to launch an "Electric Transport Strategy" by 2035, with firm targets set for 2045, including the ban on new gasoline-powered auto rickshaws and small passenger cars in cities. Supporting policies would need to encompass tax credits, import duty exemptions, low-interest loans, and utility programs to make electric vehicles more accessible and affordable. Designating "EV zones" in city centres and ramping up renewable energy capacity are additional measures that would complement Ethiopia's adoption of electric transport.

By leapfrogging directly to electric vehicles, Ethiopia can position itself as a leader in sustainable transportation, driving innovation, enhancing energy independence, and contributing to a cleaner, healthier environment. In 25 years, the hope is that the same Kaldi’s Coffee on Bole Road will overlook a landscape where electric vehicles dominate the streets, marking a significant leap forward in Ethiopia's journey towards sustainable development and climate leadership.

PUBLISHED ON Feb 13,2024 [ VOL 24 , NO 1241]

Mikael Alemu (@mikael_alemu), co-founder and CEO of '10 Green Gigawatt for Ethiopia' (

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