Bicycles are quickly becoming a primary mode of transportation in rural Africa. More and more people are relying on bicycles to access sources of income, social services and clean water; and, local non-profit organizations are working to make bicycles affordable and accessible. “Politicians may tell us that bicycles are a sign that we are not advancing,” says Patrick Kayemba, the managing director of the First African Bicycle Information Organization (FABIO), at the international cycling planning conference in Seville, Spain in March 2011. “We ourselves have seen that cycling is a socio-economic tool. It works now—we don’t have to wait for someone to rescue us with better public transport,” Kayemba adds.
For people who cycle as a means of transport in Africa, cycling is not a step backward but a step forward, IPS reports. “Gil Penalosa, an international liveable cities consultant, points out, Copenhagen and Amsterdam are among the wealthiest cities in the world, and they have the highest urban cycling rates. In these cities, bicycle transport has neither ‘loser’ nor ‘elite’ status; it’s simply the cheapest and most convenient way in which to get around.”
Kayemba’s organization, FABIO, is an Uganda based non-governmental organization providing non-motorized transport as a vital tool for sustainable development. The organization distributes bicycles in rural Uganda and also runs a bicycle credit system that awards scholarships based on the financial situation of beneficiaries. The organization has also collaborated with Cycling out of Poverty and Interface for Cycling Expertise to provide bicycle access to 520 individuals in Uganda.
“The culture of savings and precautions is not anchored in the Ugandan society,” the organization’s website explains. “The bicycle is often a key tool for low income earners in rural areas to change from subsistence to market oriented farming because it gives access to markets to both sell agricultural products and buy fertilizers, tools etc. to increase efficiency of farming.”
Low-income communities and women benefit the most from access to bicycles. According to FABIO, women produce over 80 percent of the Ugandan food crop, but they also lag behind in economic welfare. “Moreover, they live isolated from each other under the patriarchy of their husbands,” the project’s website explains. “Therefore, 95 percent of the beneficiaries under the subsidized Bicycle Credit Scheme are deliberately women.”
Similar to Ugandans, Namibian cyclists rely on affordable and refurbished second-hand bicycles for economic vitality, IPS reports. These bicycles are donated by international organizations and distributed through local organizations like FABIO. In fact, the Bicycling Empowerment Network of Namibia (BEN Namibia), an organization that provides sustainable transport and bicycle-related income generation opportunities for Namibians, in partnership with Bicycles for Humanity, started a new bicycle distribution model consisting of Bicycle Empowerment Centers (BEC). BEC’s are shipping containers loaded with 300 bicycles, spare parts and tools. The containers are delivered to community-based organizations in Namibia to be run as bicycle workshops.
Similar projects are now running in Malawi, Zambia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana and Zimbabwe, IPS reports. “Bicycles have an immediate cost-saving, life-enhancing and poverty-reducing impact on the lives of everyone who rides them,” the article adds.
A further point for Kayemba is the importance of opening Africa as a bicycle market. “We need new technologies, durable, heavy-duty bikes,” Kayemba explains. “And we need fashionable bicycles also to come to Africa, not only the ones people don’t want anymore.” Kayemba also adds that individuals who rely on bicycles for transportation do not see it as a temporary means until they can afford to buy a car or take the bus. “Bicyles are for now. For good,” he says.