What the ‘Ole’ Motorbikes are doing differently in Togo.

A female Ole Rider in Togo

It is the glue of our daily lives. When it goes well, we don’t see it. When it goes wrong, it negatively colors our day, makes us feel angry and impotent, and curtails our possibilities. Transportation is the center of the world! These were the carefully thought-out words of Robin Chase. Robin’s stance on the relevance of transportation turned out to be a simple yet poetic marvel, as though it was an idea reflected in Picasso’s portrait, this holds true as others in the past have accused transportation of being a channel through which evil is conveyed to another world. 

I would love to discuss more and make a once boring topic more exciting, however, the sanity of my mind has been displaced by the dominance of commercial motorbikes otherwise known as ‘Okada’ in Nigeria. Because we have often overlooked the role played by these indispensable means of transportation on the wider coast of West Africa. I have decided to make them the spotlight of this article. 

Notwithstanding, The motorcycle or motorbike I will be talking about shortly isn’t just your regular bike, It is called ‘Ole’. To Nigerians reading this, The word Ole would sound Negatively familiar, but trust me, it is used differently in the Republic of Togo. 

As gracefully described on the company’s website, Ole is a revolutionary motorcycle transport company in Togo with cutting-edge technology and a security system, Ole is equipped with a GPS tracker, a fare counter, and the possibility of reducing the speed of the motorcycle (more like an Uber for bikes, but you don’t have to own an account or book a ride neither does the driver has to open an account or be tech savvy. In case you are struggling to grasp the context, Take a stroll down your memory lane to remember how many times you had to argue with an Okada / Bike rider due to excess price fare or overspeeding. For the bikemen, their nightmares might be having to wake up one day to the news of a stolen source of livelihood. 

These peculiar African transport problems are what the Chinese company owned by Léopard Dayang is trying to solve. Permit me to divulge a bit out of context, the Chinese name Dayang is also used by the Plateau people of North Central Nigeria, West Africa, is there a possibility of an ancestral linkage? I would leave that puzzle for you to hack, but just so you know, the name Dayang is just one of many occurrences, the truth might just be lurking in the trend.

The business model of Ole is very simple. It assembles its motorcycles in Notsé,( A town in Togo) and rents to qualified riders holding a Togolese driving license to practice the profession of motorcycle taxi. The renting driver pays a fixed rental fee of 2000 CFA francs per day. If the rental fee is not paid, the driver will no longer be able to ride the motorcycle the next day. This is how the security devices work. Repair costs (maintenance, oil change, insurance, technical inspection, spare parts) are the responsibility of olé Togo. As someone who has ridden on an ole across the palm-lined beaches and hilltop villages of Lome, I found it to be considerably cheaper than the traditional motorcycle bike I have ridden on to similar destinations. 

Now to the exciting question, why have I decided to speak about this motorcycle company? Within the midst of all the news of startup booms and fundraising hysterias. Most African founders and investors alike have lost sight of what problems they aim to solve or are living in the delusion of replicating a successful foreign idea in a local African market. 

Ole stood out for me in the business of understanding its target market and learning about its business environment. They took cognizance of the fact that the unaffordability of stable internet-enabled devices and the low level of tech savviness in their intended operating environment may prevent their business model from scaling or getting adopted by the masses; to solve that, they integrated the simplicity of the people’s culture into ride-hailing. As a customer, all you need to do is to stand on the side of the road and shout Ole to benefit from this miracle, a bike stops for you and what you pay is calculated only as you go. 

The inbuilt GPS device and security features in these motorcycles reduce the likelihood of theft and ensure that bikers always remit the required daily amounts thereby creating a win-win for survival and profitability. The striking magnificence of this business model lies in the fact that it greatly provides for less intervention of human labour in the monitoring of operations, thereby saving the company cost and offering a wider earning margin for the riders.

The first time I took an ole was when I visited the ‘Grand marche’ or Asigame as it is popularly called by the locals. Lome is undoubtedly a very beautiful and cosmopolitan city with so many palm trees gifting serene and fresh air, friendly locals, and delicious food. It is also not uncommon for you to see une femelle riding a bike, what’s more fun is that all the bike riders are obligated to wear a helmet, so whenever you are on the road full of motorbikes, you relive your childhood memory of playing GT Racing mobile games.

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