Irreplaceable, second hand minibuses have a future in African cities

There are funny and a times strange expressions, used to coin transportation vehicles in African countries. In Cameroon, you hear of “OPEP”, a term which should not be confused with the acronym of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Organisation des pays exportateurs de petrol, in French). In Nigeria, they are called “Danfo”. While in Ghana you will hear of “Tro-Tro”, the Ivorians call them “Gbaka” and in Senegal, they are dubbed “Car-Rapide”.

A "car rapide" in Dakar, Senegal
A “car rapide” in Dakar, Senegal

Some figures on minibuses in Africa

Over the years, the amount of imported used vehicles has increased significantly. According AfroAutos, an online review providing information on vehicles sent to Africa, “in 1996, exports of used vehicles to Africa was 15% (…) and 67% in 2012”, an increase of nearly 450 %. In this volume, minibuses account for a significant part to relief thousands of civil and private workers, as well as thousands of pupils and students who often cover long distances to go to work, to universities and school, respectively.

Regardless of how you name them and from where they come, minibuses live a second life, and perhaps yet another life in African cities. Their dashboards display the hundreds of thousands of kilometers they have covered in their countries of origin. Their original seating capacities range from 9 to 22, and often more, but it should be noted that after their clearance with the customs and transportation authorities, these vehicles branch at specialized garages where they undergo modifications to increase the seating capacities. At this stage, they are often repainted and decorated if necessary to look new, clean and attractive.

Minibuses: quit indispensable in cities

As early as 4am, you can hear the honking minibuses that run through the streets in search of passengers. Depending on the time of day, they can also be seen at specific junctions in the suburbs of the cities, with their engines running, ready to transport residents who do not have vehicles to major destinations such as the malls, bus stations, ministries, universities and schools, among other destinations.

Although these mini buses offer an uncertain comfort to their passengers (many passengers remain standing throughout the journey and sweat as if they return from sports, since the ventilation is ineffective in these vehicles), they (the minibuses) have gradually become irreplaceable in African cities. The threats of conventional taxis drivers’ unions on the minibus organizations have not curb their growth, let alone stop the role they play in facilitating the lives of citizens.

In fact, with the ever increasing rents in city centers, people are prone to go for affordable house rental costs far from business centers. However, they must be going to work and do their shopping in these same city centers, where the constant movement of goods and people, constitute a growing clientele for minibuses.

Minibuses often depict danger

Minibuses offer sufficiently affordable services, giving tourists and other users an opportunity to visit entire cities for long hours with a limited budget. Aamlorie, an Ivorian traveler and blogger realized this and ranks second “Taking minibuses” on her list of 12 Things You Will Only Do In Another Country. But then, dangerous overtaking and excessive speeding are some noticeable and revolting behaviors of minibus drivers, who are known to have little driving experience, situations which sometimes results in fatal accidents.

However, it should be noted that the typical living standard in African cities is such that many cadres cannot reasonably buy new vehicles and businessmen cannot invest in the purchase of new minibuses for they always have in mind to make profit and the banks do not trust them much. A situation which gives second hand minibuses a bright future in the fast-growing African cities.

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