Photograph — Enterprise

Hot on the heels of its massive partnership with Ford motors, SWVL is finalizing plans to set up in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital. The Egyptian start-up intends to launch in Lagos by mid-July with fifty buses,  a SWVL representative told Menabytes.

In a style now becoming a notable trademark for the company, it advertised the role of Country General Manager for Nigeria last week, just as it did in Kenya and Uganda before breaking into those countries. A closer look at the job offer indicates that SWVL intends a big launch across the country, stipulating that the candidate will be “responsible for the development and growth of SWVL’s business in Lagos and Nigeria as a whole.”

But unlike its previous incursions into Kampala, Cairo and Nairobi, SWVL might face a different hustle in Lagos. For starters, Lagos combines the population of SWVL’s previous city-scales; 21million-strong Lagos overtook 19.5million-strong Cairo as Africa’s most populous city in 2017. For another, Lagos is replete with competition in every sector, especially transportation. Transport is big business, with millions of people needing to move fast in a city famous for daredevil traffic. Not to mention, Lagos heat seems to be called down specifically on all who have offended the gods of vagrancy by daring to walk or commute in vehicles without functional air-conditioning systems.  

There is also the small matter of turf war warrior-type public transport industry players. They’re a ragtag union of molue drivers, bus conductors, and fearless touts who prowl bus stops hounding transporters for taxes. These entities may operate separately, but they’re all cohorts in the context of mapping public transportation profit. These groups are lions about their source of income. And so is the Lagos state government, about its revenue and taxes. In 2018, it reported an Internally Generated Revenue of almost 900 billion Naira. Unlike Cairo, Lagos is serious about its taxes, and even more so, road taxes, which clocked in at just under 10 billion Naira in 2016.  

However similar these problems might appear to SWVL, operating in Lagos brings a whole new dimension to each problem and will require a lot of smart, big-picture thinking by the company.

Where, in Cairo, it only dealt primarily with Careem and Uber, there’s a lot more competition for Lagos passengers. Uber’s here. So is Oga Taxi. So is Taxify. So is Gokada, a call-on-demand motorcycle transporter which recently became $5.3 million richer, a superstar startup in its own right. That’s all before one even gets to the public transporters, with LagBus, the official government-sponsored buses, numbered at 1309 in 2016.

There is no doubt that Lagos has its advantages. For one, with a hefty per square meter density of 20,000, any transporter will have its tummy tickled by the sheer demand for movement services. And with a population growing at ten times the pace of New York and Los Angeles, there are no prizes for guessing what kind of market a transporter will have here.

There is money to be made in Lagos, but SWVL will need a rapid-thinking Country Manager blessed with the grit and diplomacy needed to navigate the hordes of demanding stakeholders, who are very vested in the Lagos transport system. Wishing you nothing but the best, SWVL.

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