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Malawi's alternative: bicycles for hire
by Mabvuto Banda
Reuters Translate This Article
2 May 2008
NAMITETE, Malawi (Reuters Life!) - Bernard Banda makes $5 a day carrying people on his bicycle, good money in a country where more than half the 13 million people live below a dollar a day.
'I charge MK70 (50 U.S. cents) per trip and on a good day I make about MK700 ($5) or more,' Bernard says.
Banda is not the only one cashing in on a bicycle transport industry now booming because of the rising costs of fuel pushed up by strong global oil prices.
Along Mchinji road—the highway linking Malawi to Zambia's eastern province—colorfully decorated bicycles are neatly parked, waiting to transport students to a nearby government college, nursing staff to a hospital and visitors around the area.
The bicycles are remodeled to suit the business. A second seat is attached to the bicycle behind the driver's seat. The passenger seat is finished in colorful but cheap leather, comfortably sized to accommodate any size of passenger.
Stand by the roadside for just a few minutes and you can see how important the bicycles are to the area.
Bernard is hired to transport a bag of maize. Another driver picks up a new passenger and cycles off.
'To do this you have to be strong because sometimes we ride uphill carrying a passenger or hired to transport a bag of maize,' says Langiton Sitima.
This form of transport is fast-becoming a common sight across Malawi. In each province the bikers are called by different names.
'This form of transport is our future. I can no longer afford to pay K150 ($1) a day for a one-way trip using public transport,' says Maggie Yotamu, a student at the College of Natural Resources which is along the route the bicycles service.
In the capital Lilongwe and its surrounding districts they call the bikers 'Kabadza', which means hard worker. In the Northern Province they call them 'Sacramento', named after the Brazilian buses that ply the long routes across the country.
To underscore the importance of the bicycle, police have been organizing identity cards for these bikers.
'In most cases police have moved in because we recognize that they are giving a very important service to the public and therefore we give them identity cards for security purposes,' police spokesperson Willie Mwaluka told Reuters.
(Writing by Caroline Drees; Editing by Marius Bosch and Sara Ledwith)
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