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Ivorians hail first home-built buses

By John James
BBC News, Abidjan

Ivory Coast's new fleet of buses
African bus commuters have different needs from Europeans, it is said

Commuters in Ivory Coast can now travel around town on the first ever buses designed for and built in the region.

The engineering arm of the national transport company, Sotra, decided it could save money and create a bus better suited to African conditions.

"We want the transfer of technology in Africa, and we want to build our own buses with our own specification," says Sotra Industries director Mamadou Coulibaly.

"In Europe the technology is very sophisticated with lots of electronic devices. In Africa we don't need this.

"We just need robust buses because our roads are not very well done like in Europe. This is an African design for Africa."

The first three buses hit the streets on Thursday, and more of the vehicles are rolling off the production line.

Squash

Public buses in Abidjan are extremely popular and are frequently tightly packed despite the sweltering heat and lack of air-conditioning.

Gleaming interior of new Ivory Coast bus
It's not true that if you're in a civil war you can't do things because you see yourself that during the crisis we tried to build big projects
Sotra's Mamadou Coulibaly

The new urban bus has fewer seats than a Western bus, meaning up to 100 people can be squeezed inside.

"I think it's a good thing. It'll help students to move about in more comfort," says Isaac Gueu, who is studying accountancy in Abidjan.

But not all bus users are in favour of this launch.

"If we import buses it's better because we already know their endurance, the pros and cons, so really, I'm a bit hesitant about making buses here," Ahmed Wague said.

The buses are designed and built in the main city of Abidjan on a chassis and engine base that is supplied in parts from European truck-maker Iveco.

What is intriguing is that almost all the work on this project was done while Ivory Coast has been in a political crisis prompted by the civil war.

Continental

In 2003, a year after the conflict started, Sotra started producing its own boat-buses which speed up and down the lagoon on which Abidjan is built.

"We tried to launch these projects because we can prepare for the post-crisis period by launching such projects," said Mr Coulibaly.

Ivory Coast bus
The company plans eventually to build 300 buses a year

"It's not true that if you're in a civil war you can't do things because you see yourself that during the crisis we tried to build big projects."

The Ivorian company has designed three types of buses - a coach, an urban bus and a tourist bus.

The tourist bus will make weekly trips from Abidjan to one of the world's biggest churches in the capital, Yamoussoukro.

Orders are already coming in from other countries in Africa.

The company plans to build 100 buses this year and scale up to producing 300 a year.

"I think that we have to begin one day because it's not very difficult. We have been to school in Europe and we think that we are able today to build our own buses; there are no special difficulties," Mr Coulibaly said.



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