Drawing Green Lessons from Bicycling in Zimbabwe

Bicyclist ZimbabweBicycles have been touted as one of the best ways to stem the over-reliance on oil powered transportation and, at the same time, can significantly improve personal health.

In Zimbabwe, bicycles are increasingly becoming popular, albeit for a different reason: money and economics. With a current world record inflation of 11.2 million percent - and rising on a daily basis - many people in Zimbabwe are struggling to make ends meet with very meager salaries.

As a means to cope with high transport costs (a product of Zimbabwe's hyperinflationary economy), many workers have taken to bicycling. Previously stigmatized as a sign of poverty, bicycles have taken on a new form as a means of affordable transportation to work.

Average monthly salaries in Zimbabwe range between $3 - $10 U.S., enough for three loaves of bread or a week's transport costs. Bicycles thus help poorer workers avoid exorbitant transport costs; however, it is mainly men that have taken to using bicycles as a form of transport.

Unfortunately, the major roads in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, were not built with the bicyclist in mind which makes bicycling a highly hazardous act. Bicyclists are forced to ride at the edge of the road, often on stony gravel which makes the ride bumpy and uncomfortable.

If a bicyclist makes any mistake, the chances of being hit by oncoming traffic is highly likely. Moreover, motorists have little regard for bicycle riders.

To encourage the bicycling trend which has take a grip in Harare, and many other urban areas of the country, the central government will need to invest in constructing well-signed cycle tracks that are friendly to bicyclists.

In addition, there is need for social awareness programmes that inform people about the environmental benefits of bicycling in addition to the obvious and direct benefit of saving money.

In fact, the uptake of bicycling in Harare is replete with lessons that environmentally friendly initiatives have to be functional in daily life if they are going to prove successful. If people do not perceive a direct benefit in an environmentally friendly strategy, there is a low likelihood of adoption. 

Moreover, environmentally friendly initiatives need to make an appeal that goes beyond the abstract and cerebral and actually prove that they can have an economic impact that can improve people's lives and livelihoods.

While many people sympathize with the good arguments put forward by well-meaning environmental activists, as long as there is no perception of an immediate benefit in engaging in an environmentally friendly practice, there will be less people willing to take it up.

The fact that many women are not willing to take up bicycling is itself a worrying development. Perhaps women are not willing to expend the high energy levels required to cycle, or perhaps they are more concerned with safety issues. What this means in the bigger picture is that environmentally friendly strategies need to be gender sensitive in order to have a wider societal appeal.

Alternatively, environmentalists need to note the gender disparities and make relevant policy and practice formulations that take into account the needs of women and men.

In the meantime, for the ordinary cyclist in Zimbabwe, the roads are a death trap, and prayers need to be said before jumping onto a bicycle.  Hopefully Zimbabwean cyclists will be accommodated and, in the process, help to make the environment better.

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  • Posted on Sept. 18, 2008. Listed in:

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