Bicycles in Rwanda are the main form of rural transport, for both commercial and non commercial purposes. In Ngoma district, Eastern Province, young men in the villages will never feel secure adults until they buy a new bicycle.
They say it is the bicycle that gives them the confidence to start a family.
The rural family setting is hence built on the foundation of the pedal power.
The bicycle is the economic source of any young man; they will use it to make money, to build a house, and the same time get money to pay dowry.
“I cannot think of marrying without a bicycle and small house. It is the bicycle that will carry my wife when she is sick, and it is the same bicycle that will help me make money to feed my children,” said Jean de Dieu Maniraguha, 20, a resident of Sake Sector.
Young Rwandan men, will struggle from zero to get money to buy a bicycle, and will be congratulated and celebrated by his fellow youth after getting one.
“Buying a bicycle is a great achievement that is celebrated with a beer party. It does not go unnoticed because some elders are invited to ‘bless’ the day,” said Johana Karinijambo, 66, of Jarama Sector.
In the traditional Rwandan song; ‘Umusore utagira igare cyangwa isuka ntashaka’- Literary translated as, ‘a man who does not own a bicycle or a hoe cannot marry.’
Bicycles have gained a status in rural Rwanda and carry an incredible power on the lives of both young and old rural dwellers.
Peddling for money
Young and old men, in some cases women, ride daily for hundreds of kilometres doing business in markets, across different sectors and districts.
Bicycles are usually loaded to capacity, with various goods which are peddled for kilometres before they are sold to customers.
“My bicycle carries more than 200 kilograms of anything. I carry bananas from their plantations and take them to the nearest market and beyond to sell,” said Jean Paul Nsengiyunva, 26, a resident of Karembo Sector.
Bicycles are the main means of transport in rural areas. From a small fee of Rwf50 for short distances and Rwf2000 to go across a border.
In some districts like Bugesera, one does not necessarily need to wait for a taxi to cross to Burundi. People move from Ririma and Ruhuha Sectors and cross to Burundi on bicycles.
“Bicycles are very important to us here. To cross to Burundi wouldn’t take me more than Rwf2000. Bicycle transport is cheap and reliable in our areas,” said Gorethe Mukagatete.
Peddling for school
To get an education, students in rural settings ride bicycles for more than 40 kilometres daily as they move to and from schools.
In Ngoma district, schools are far away from many homes and without a bicycle students will walk for hours and miles to reach their respective schools.
“We ride our bicycles from far, about 20 kilometres from school. It is not easy, but we are used to it. Those who don’t have bicycles walk, so you cannot complain when you can ride,” said Jeanvier Musana, a 17 year-old senior 3 student of Zaza Secondary School in Ngoma district.
The narrow winding roads and the hilly terrain, in rural areas cannot allow any other form of transportation.
As a result, bicycles have become the best transport alternative operating in some of the remotest parts of Rwanda.
Recently a policy was passed to abolish bicycles in various towns and city. However this was not really successful.
The reasons, the rural Rwandan pedal power cannot be done away with.
In Kigali City, the move to abolish bicycles from the streets was a success.
The same is true in rural town centres where there is minimal use of bicycles which have been replaced by motorcycles. However, in villages, the endeavours to eliminate bicycles have always been met by strong resistance.
“It is extremely difficult to stop the use of bicycles in rural areas; I would say it is a futile exercise since people depend on them heavily,” said Joshua Buhiga, executive Secretary of Karembo sector.
Given the illiteracy and ignorance of traffic laws by many bicycle peddlers, they have been victims to many road accidents.
Records show that most of the highway accidents are caused by either bicycle users or the small motorcycles.
“We receive many cases of accidents from the highway. Most are caused by peasants riding bicycles in the middle of the road,” said Doctor Claude Nsengimana of Rwamagana Hospital.
Sometimes, bicycle riders cling onto moving trailers or Lorries that enable them to climb up hilly roads.
This dangerous move has caused accidents and justifies why they are kept away from highways.
With bicycles, the average rural Rwandan finds a sense of belonging and confidence in society.
These peddle machines are the livelihoods of those in remote areas and still remain the most valuable asset in rural Rwandan settings.