New Internationalist

Riding the Right Road

Issue 091
Photo: New African / Abdulla Sulieman
President Nyerere on a 'Swala' bicycle Photo: New African / Abdulla Sulieman

N.I. Issue No 3: May 1973

‘One of the poorest countries in the world, with one of the wisest leaders.’ That’s how President Nyerere’s Tanzania has been described. The country’s economy has not been helped by the $1,000 million bill for the war which rid neighbouring Uganda of Idi Amin. Nor by this year’s drought which has meant buying food at inflated world market prices. And as a NOPECT - non oil producing country - rising petroleum prices are poised to put that final nail in Tanzania’s balance-of-payments coffin. A recent copy of Freewheeling (Vol. 1 Issue 3) describes how the country is fighting back with new measures to curb oil imports. A complicated licensing and preference system has been introduced in an attempt to curtail the use of petrol in transport. The government has backed this up with a serious commitment to probably the most widely used vehicle in the world - the bicycle. Soon Dar Es Salaam may even rival Peking as a cycling city.

True to its development form, Tanzania aims to become self-sufficient in bicycle manufacture. Its National Bicycle factory produces the sturdy old fashioned ‘Swala’ - modelled here by Nyerere himself. It is stout enough to carry heavy loads on untarmaced tracks, and everything except the steel in the frames is home-produced. Not only does this cut the fuel bill, it also saves on both four and two-wheeled imports. Finally it reflects a style of progress attuned to the common man - who can realistically aspire to a better life with a bike, but for whom a car might as well be a space rocket.

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