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Here comes the electric tuk-tuk

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 Twenty-eight-year-old Mary Majorine Nankyinga works for Sokowatch, an online supplier of goods to micro retailers that are deploying electric tuk-tuks — a first on the continent, that could slash fleet maintenance costs by more than 50%, according to an official.

The Kenya-based firm developed an app on which small retailers in east Africa can log orders of various goods to restock their shops.

Nankinga who is based in Kampala says she was passionate about maths and physics back in high school and went on to study mechanical engineering. She is now the company’s fleet manager.

“Now we are connecting the battery. It has to fix tight. In this case we are supposed to see a display when we turn on. Here is our display, battery life is at 100 percent. Number one is out forward gear, number three is our reverse gear,” said Nankinga.

Once the orders are received, Sokowatch then dispatches the goods from its warehouses to the retailers.

In a region where cities are plagued by gridlock, with narrow and pot holed roads, Sokowatch adopted the three-wheeled rick shaws as a primary means of transport to deliver the goods.

The move is a potentially welcome effort in a region where cities are grappling with growing air pollution caused by exhaust from beat-up and poorly serviced vehicles.

“We truly do believe that electric vehicles are the future of mobility…specifically in Africa especially when it comes to powering commerce or retail across the continent,” Daniel Yu, Sokowatch’s chief executive, said.

The firm has so far deployed eight locally assembled electric tuk tuks in Uganda and is looking to deploy an additional eight in Rwanda before rolling out the vehicles to Kenya and Tanzania.

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Sokowatch currently has 178 gasoline-powered tuk tuks, in addition to the eight electric vehicles in Uganda, that it uses to deliver goods from its warehouses to 17,000 micro retailers across nine cities in east Africa.

Sokowatch, which has been operating for three years, negotiates big discounts with manufacturers who then deliver their goods at Sokowatch’s 40 warehouses across the region.

The firm then is able to leverage those discounts to supply the small shops at zero transport cost.

“Before I got to know about Sokowatch, I would run out of stock and not have anyone to help me replenish it. I lost a lot of customers, but now everything is fine. I simply contact Sokowatch and they will deliver my stock,” said Betty Balowooza, a Sokowatch client.

“Previously, micro-retailers had to travel downtown in order to get the stock that they needed. This would cost them time, this would cost them money, in terms of the customers that they were not serving and also in terms of shop security,” said Peter Muzoora, the Sokowatch country manager in Uganda.

Yu said they were looking to expand elsewhere in Africa after their success in east Africa and capture more of the continent’s small retailers the firm estimates at 10 million.

“We believe that our model can be successful in pretty much every country across the (African) continent. We are looking at expansion into Francophone West Africa likely in the next period of 2021.”

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