Tony Adesina: Revolutionising green electric mobility in Africa
The Nigerian-American Mr Tony B. Adesina is operating in the green, eco-friendly space not in the Western Hemisphere but on the African Continent via Rwanda and with future plans to proselytise the green gospel to other parts of Africa. The US-trained serial entrepreneur who studied Industrial Engineering at Penn State University, and has an in-depth first-hand knowledge and expertise in technology and green space and eco-friendly innovations has some big dreams and projects already coming to fruition in Rwanda. In the month of September 2020, Mr Tony Adesina who is the founder of Safirun logistics, Safiride, SUL Mobility and Guraride sat down with Dolapo Aina for an extensive interview. Do read the excerpts.
A bit about yourself?
My name is Tony Adesina and I am a serial entrepreneur in the green space looking at the eco-friendly sector, electronic vehicles, charging infrastructure to bicycle sharing, transportation solution systems and other areas that we operate in. Our sole aim is to push for sustainability and e-mobility in Africa. We kicked off in Rwanda and we have an expansion plan not just for East Africa but West and Southern Africa as well.
We hope that with our main push of e-mobility, we can get like-minds and like companies like ourselves to also join us in the cause. Because Africa is kind of lagging behind from the rest of the world, everybody is moving away from fossil fuel but for some reason, Africa still seems to be keen on petroleum products. But we hope that with us leading the charge in this, we can get other companies coming onboard and we can take Africa to the next level.
So, why did you decide to set up in Rwanda?
The decision to come to Rwanda; for one, there is stability here. Also, there is Vision Green Transport 2020 (already set up by the Rwandan Government) which is in line with what we were looking to do as well.
So, it made our decision to kick off here and also, the government’s support is quite encouraging to support anything in the green line. Anybody who knows anything about Rwanda knows the country is huge on green. For us, it is a no-brainer to come in here. And also, the access point to other East African countries was another factor that we looked at.
Your firm has several stand-alone entities. Do talk a bit about them.
Yes, technically, they are stand alone different entities. Safiride is your ride sharing service which is basically pick up and drop off (like you have Uber, Bolt and Taxify.) With Safiride, our main goal was and is to cut down the high rate of accidents in the country.
With safety being our core value, we felt there was an opening and a niche in that sector to personalise this and make sure people have a reliable company they could work with in terms of moving from one point to the other. We are using electric motorcycles. That is what Safiride is.
SUL Mobility (Safi Universal Link Mobility) is a manufacturing and assembling company that deals in electric vehicles (EV) products; from EV vans, scooters, electric motorcycles, capacity building as we have everything assembled locally. Our main push is to empower women and most importantly, to get them involved in the green space; not only from trainings on how to ride but also trainings on how to assemble; how to be mechanics and technicians. We also have the sales and repair arm of it.
Guraride is all about bicycle sharing and micro-mobility from your scooters, electric bikes to your base model bikes which is basically your first and last mile transport solution system. This has been successful in China, USA, UK and now Africa. This is one of the main projects we are looking to push not only in Rwanda but across the African Continent from Ghana, Nigeria, Morocco, Mauritius, Rwanda, Uganda and pretty much to get the culture of bicycle-sharing running in Africa.
Safirun is an eco-friendly logistics company dealing with logistics involving parcels, restaurants, drinks, groceries and anything logistics-based courier services as well. Again, all of these companies use green form of transportation and vehicles for all their services. For Safirun, we use electric scooters and sixty percent of the runners (scooter riders) are women which is unique.
It is one of the main things we are willing to push and once they have gone through training at SUL, we can pretty much employ them at Safirun and get them going.
And finally, the last company is EV Plugin which is a charging infrastructure. As you know, if you have EV (electric vehicles) products, they have to be charged and also if you sell EV products, they also need a charging station and that is what EV Plugin provides; a charging infrastructure across the country. And a good example cum illustration would as you buy petrol but, in this case, you are buying electricity through a supercharging system.
Why have you decided to focus on the green form of energy?
The green form of energy is the future and the future is now. I know we have been saying the future decades ago but the future is now. If you look at what is happening in the world and transformation happening across board, everyone is into the clean energy sector.
You have Tesla and other automobile companies all stopping production of fossil fuel vehicles in a couple of years. So, at some point, any country not moving forward would get the dump products from all these countries. So, I think we have to wake up in Africa and make sure we don’t have those things dumped on and in our Continent while everyone is moving forward.
It appears you have gotten your feet on the ground in Rwanda. What has been the progress of the stand-alone entities you have mentioned?
Progress has been tremendous. We put a lot of work, time and dedication into it. Financially, there is a little factor but just being dedicated, day in day out and pushing to achieve your goals in the scheme of things. All the companies are pretty much going to market now and some have commenced. But before the end of the year (2020) everything should be pretty much running at optimum level. And we hope that in future, we can spread across Africa with the companies.
You talked about the SUL capacity building programme for women engineers. Why that? Why focus on the women engineers?
If you look in most spaces and places, women are constantly marginalised and sometimes looked at as the weaker sex (which is not necessarily true. They have the same functional brain as men do.) This is just something that we have so much passion for, to see how we can empower and encourage them to get involved in the green space including riding.
There is nothing you cannot do if you put your mind to it and the response has been great. We have over a thousand and five hundred women who have shown interest to train for riding, a couple of hundreds are interested in assembling and a lot are interested in being technicians. We have a few we have already trained for assembling. The response rate has been really fast. We have women who can assemble entire motorcycles in forty-five minutes. So, it has been great when you see the results coming out of the initiatives.
People might wonder, why ride sharing and bicycle sharing in Rwanda?
These are operational points as we are able to get a lot of backing in terms of government policies in the green space (green transportation); it makes things a bit easier. Maybe, we still have to sensitise the people and they get accustomed to the new technologies you are bringing to the table. But at least, when you have support from the government, it gives you ample room to be able to achieve some of these things.
The market is not the biggest market but it is easier to control, it is easier to pilot and it is easier to roll out; it is easier to monitor and make sure everything is running the way it is supposed to and fix what should be fixed. It is a great market for anyone looking to kick off (depending on what line of business you are going into.) My advice would be to be on ground rather than travelling back and forth, so as to pay attention to how things work locally in order to give yourself a fighting chance in order to be successful.
What other technologies are you bringing onboard to integrate with your businesses in Rwanda?
We have mobile apps to tracking systems to fast charging. We have an advanced training centre in Kibagabaga in Kigali; which does more advanced training than the typical training you would get for motorcycle riders because we are trying to cut down on the rate of accidents which 76 percent; is caused by motorcycles in the country. With that, we are retraining new riders in the core values of safety. Things like this are some of the things we are pushing which is completely new; compared to what is on ground.
People would wonder what makes the firm stand out?
I think it is just the uniqueness of our services. Everybody likes to think they are different but in actual reality it is more action than just words.
When you look across the board, what we are able to achieve with our services (whether it is the delivery angle, customer services etc which are a big thing not only on the Continent but all over the world; there is a lack.) And it is one of the biggest things we emphasise on with our staff and re-occurring training is what we do. Most times, people do one holistic training and assume that human beings would remember but human beings forget things. We do constant trainings and customer feedback as we engage our customers and end users to give us feedback to better improve our services.
Those are the services we offer across board in our companies, the uniqueness and our goal is to pretty much begin in Rwanda and transform Kigali into a Silicon Valley of Africa. People see misconceptions of Africa in Western adverts and assume those are the real images of Africa. We want to change people’s perspectives of how they look at Africa and coming in to see all the innovative ideas in place would put Africa in a better light from a global perspective.