There are some things you think you know, but come to find out you didn’t really know until you’ve experienced them. These include the humid heat of Lagos, the busy markets of Cairo or taking a boda ride through Kampala. You get told about it, yet you have to experience it to really understand what it’s like. One of these encounters to me was the insane traffic jams of African cities.
First office in Lagos
Last week, we opened our first office in Lagos, and we had been looking for a suitable location for our developer community. The goal was that most of our developers could reach the office in under an hour. Boy oh boy, was that ambitious! Whichever place we picked, it turned out there was always a significant group of developers for whom it would be at least a 2-hour commute, except for those lucky few that happened to live in that neighbourhood. Yesterday I experienced a long commute myself when it took me over an hour to open a bank account only 5kms away!
Massive effect on people’s lives
As sitting in immutable traffic has now become a part of life for me as well, I pondered about the massive effect this has on people’s lives. Let’s start with the unquantifiable first. Imagine spending 2 hours to and 2 hours from the office every day, just to get to work. This is time you could have spent doing something you like, relaxing from the day or being with your family and friends. But of course, the quantifiable facts are telling enough on their own. Due to the difficulty in getting around, commuters in Lagos spend 40% of their income on transportation! Air pollution has gotten so bad in Kampala that the health benefits of cycling are being outweighed by the potential health hazards! In addition, the road safety hazards are a concern as well. Nineteen percent of all worldwide traffic incidents occur on African roads, while car ownership is actually the lowest!
Causes of jam
Of course, the causes of these traffic jams are quite well known. The economy of most African countries is focused in large cities. Lagos presents 80% of Nigeria’s economy, oil excepted. Gauteng, which comprises of Johannesburg and Pretoria, holds 10% of the African economy. So naturally, this attracts a lot of migrants, leading to explosive urban growth. Combine this with bad road conditions, the impossibility of proper urban planning in such a dynamic environment and voila! The nightmare that is called ‘the jam’ is born.
Glimmer of hope on macro level
Yet, amidst the honking horns and fighting chauffeurs, I saw a glimmer of hope. Tunga was founded based on a precondition that software developers (or any digital professionals for that matter) could work together while physically being in vastly different places. On a macro level, this means that a developer in Amsterdam can work jointly on a project with a developer somewhere in Cairo. The social benefit is that money is flowing into the continent, and people don’t have to migrate to other countries in order to improve their economic situation. The reality is that remittances still are the largest contributor to the Nigerian economy; again, oil excepted.
Our answer to the jam on micro level
On a micro level, however, the ability to work together while being located in different places also negates the need to commute. And indeed, many Tunga developers are more drawn to the flexibility our platform provides than purely the monetary value they receive. Working in a location they choose allows them to spend more time doing things they love, with people they love. For these individual developers, that’s of course great news and a huge improvement; but on a grander scale, this could also be the answer to the jam, because remote work means that fewer people have to use the roads.
Only time can tell how traffic in Africa will develop, but the next time I’m on a call with a remote developer, I’ll be happy they did not have to battle the jam that morning.