11 February 2013

Rwanda: Bicycle Taxis - Kigali's 'Forbidden' Job

Kigali — It's not really as forbidden as the biblical fruit but riding a bicycle on Kigali's shining tarmac roads is illegal.

That means, unlike most cities in the region, bicycle taxis (boda-bodas) are outlawed in EA's cleanest city.

It is 5pm in the early evening on a newly tarmac-ked road in Kicukiro one of the three districts that make up Kigali city when a crazily speeding cyclist zooms past with his bell screaming alarms sending pedestrians on the pavements ducking to extremes for safety against the wall fences of roadside houses with eyes showing a mixture of shock, fright and amusement.

Before anyone could recover from the shock or attach meaning to the brief scenario, a speeding police patrol wagon with horns blazing follows seconds later sending everyone else scampering back in their momentary cover.

It was like a scene from the Rush hour movie, only that this was real. The police were chasing after an offending bicycle taxi cyclist who had ridden his bike on the 'kaburimbo' as they call a tarmac road in Kinyarwanda.

The reasoning behind barring bikes from city tarmac roads is that their operators are reckless and prone to causing accidents which are a danger to not only the road users but also the owners.

It's a regulation common in most of Rwanda's major towns. A general security meeting held on July 30th 2012 by Gakenke district authorities in Rwanda's Northern Province also resolved to ban bicycles from the town's tarmac roads because of causing 18 accidents in a single month.

Like in Kigali city, cyclists would only be allowed to operate on marram roads and once on tarmac roads their owners would be required to push them not riding.

Back to the chase, three hundred meters later ahead of the road rising on a hilly part, the cyclist knew his game was up as the car was just inches away from his rear tire, the young man jumped off the bike momentarily staggering before finding his feet to skedaddle.

After a few paces in his quest to escape, the police wagon rounded to a mouth watering stop three officers jumped off with their guns on the ready, two grabbed the bicycle and hauled it on the police car as one officer chased after the scared cyclist.

Two minutes into the chase, the boy was caught and squeezed facedown under the police car seats at the back of the wagon before driving off on a lesser speed to an unknown place, probably a police station.

Despite this persecution of cyclists, many still operate and risk riding passengers on isolated tarmac roads.

They charge between RWF100 and RWF200 for a ride. Many people especially those living a distance from commuter tax routes use them to get to the stage before boarding cars.

Théoden Magyambere is 23years and one of the cyclists. He dropped out in primary school for lack of enough money to meet his school needs and has been cycling for the last three years.

"I bought the bicycle with money I earned working on construction sites but the job is not easy because of harassment from city officials," says Magyambere.

On a good day, the lad says he makes RWF4000 ($6) of which he has to save RWF1000 with their cyclists association. He saves another RWF1000 on his own saving scheme while he uses the balance for meals and other basic needs.

Saving with both their association and his own scheme means he can expect at least RWF50, 000 or $76 at the end of the month.

It's the same story for most of his colleagues on the street and if they were to be allowed to operate freely, the boys think they could earn a decent living and survive in Kigali one of the most expensive cities in the region.

The boys say without their bicycles, they are as sure not to find any other job which needs minimum skills.

"When they take your bike, forget it for a month and during that time if you can't find a job on a construction site then you are pushed on the brink of stealing to survive," says Rodriguez Kamasa.

But despite their plea for leeway to work anywhere, there are those who agree with city authorities that cyclists indeed are a road danger.

"They are young and wild and we often see them involving in crazy acts on the road such as racing which indeed can result in accidents," says a nurse at Centre de santé in Kicukiro.

Denise Ishimwe is at University and occasionally uses the bicycles to keep time but she admits sometimes she gets worried.

"They like chasing after each other as if trying to prove whose bicycle is faster and they do this in total disregard of the people they are carrying or heavier automobiles using the same road," she recounts.

The argument of keeping bicycles off the tarmac and sending them to the marram roads may not guarantee road accident immunity but city authorities believe it can reduce them.

Traffic accident statistics from the Rwanda National Police (RNP) indicate that over 80% of accidents in the country occur in Kigali city and they involve majority motor cyclists, another group of transport operators the city has been trying to reign in with minimal success.

As Kigali grows in both size and population, ambitions of maintaining an organized city might prove to be more challenging.

For now, in Kigali, you can't hoot your car horns unnecessarily as you will be fined for disrupting the serenity of the city. You can't also step on or rest on the green soft roadside gardens or you would be fined for destroying the environment.

These and many others are contained in the organic law 04/2005 of 08/04/2005 determining the modalities of protection, conservation and promotion of environment in Rwanda which has made Kigali the cleanest and most organized city in East Africa.

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