PEDAL power has never really left Africa and Rwanda in particular. Bicycle transporters—Boda-bodas still ply village-to-market routes across the country, carrying passengers or sacks of cassava on their carrier.
It is important to note that bicycles are purchased at relatively low prices and have low running costs, which is why they are used in most rural poor African villages like Rwamagana.
Nevertheless, any villager who gets better in terms of wealth will immediately shift to buying a car. Indeed, Rwandans tend to turn their back on bikes as soon as they can afford anything with an engine.
Unfortunately, the bike has suffered from the recklessness of car-drivers, though in some cases they are the ones to blame. What compounds their tragedy is the fact that cyclists rarely mind about their own safety.
They do not have helmets and reflectors or lights at night, making them not only dangerous to themselves, but also to other road users. However, this does not concern the rural cyclists carrying cassava to or from markets to earn a living.
This is were the implementers of the bicycle ban go wrong. They are failing to tell the difference (in terms of necessity) between a bicycle that carries passengers and the one that helps rural peasants to carry on their day-to-day activities that which makes them earn a living.
Bicycle use in Rwamagana district has been practically banned in unison. The passenger and domestic carriers were put in one bag and forced out of work.
Whenever we talk about bicycle transport, people tend to think that we are referring to the usual bodabodas – those that carry people from one point to another.
This time we are referring to bicycles, peasants in the rural areas use to carry their goods to and from markets. Rwamagana district authorities, to the dismay of everyone, banned this form of transport.
“I was coming from the market to sell some food stuff when I met district officials, who forced me to pack my bicycle at the police station and go. The bicycle is the only thing I use to carry my goods to and from markets. I do not know what to do next since I have begged the police to give me the bicycle without success,” complained one Emmanuel Nyarwaya a villager in Nyagasenyi sector of Rwamagana district.
Peasants like the one above, do not understand why their bicycles were impounded, yet they do not use them to carry people (bodaboda).
In fact, a couple of years ago, our concern in the sub-Saharan Africa, was that whereas most of our people use bicycles to run all their business, we do not produce them ourselves. This is still a great concern that we cannot escape, yet some of our policy implementers are doing the exact opposite.
What should the authorities do?
One is to consult the people, thoroughly before they start implementing ‘most’ rules or policies. This is because the assumption is that all is done for the benefit of the Wanachi (population).
It sounds ironical to keep policies away from the beneficiaries-if this is done, it will avoid unnecessary mistakes and complaints from either party.
Two, we understand that the authorities could have found themselves at crossroads, while trying to check the reckless- ignorant rural cyclists, hence opting for a rather radical measure-to ban all bicycles on tarmac roads.
This is just an option but not a solution. Since options are subject to alterations, the user-unfriendly should not survive.
As one of our great challenges, we do not have many feeder roads to connect the highways, to the most rural areas.
The absence of feeder roads, actually speaks volumes against the initiative to ban rural bicycles from touching tarmac roads.
A peasant from the deep rural area will only access markets by use of a bicycle- you know it can use the narrowest paths (panya roads) in villages.
And because most markets are joined by tarmac roads, cyclists have to use the roads especially when they are about to reach the markets. You cannot change this unless you want to starve the population.
“I terribly do not understand why the authorities decided to stop all bicycles from plying to and from markets. You see my leg for instance, has a problem and the only way to access Rwamagana market, is to send my boy with a bicycle. But if I do so, the bicycle will be confiscated. This is unacceptable-we will appeal, for we cannot allow ourselves to be starved by a careless decision,” Byabagamba Patrick, resident of Nsinda sector- Rwamagana district, bitterly complained.
The authorities in the district of Rwamagana should therefore revise their decision, to meet the demands of people. A slow and steady pace will definitely lead us to development while a quick unpopular move will do the reverse.