In Pictures: Africa’s Iron Horses

Posted by Mishqah Schippers on 1 July 2021

Whether it’s a taxi service or long-haul cargo operation, bikes are the most accessible tools of commerce on the continent. Anton Crone catches some of the imaginative ways that Africa keeps rolling.

Words and Photographs: Anton Crone 

A trader pushes his wares to a market, a distance of about 15km over hilly terrain in northwestern Tanzania.

I’ve long held a belief that riding on two wheels is the finest form of travel. Compared to driving a car, ensconced in a metal cocoon where you regulate your world with music and air-conditioning, on a bike you’re completely exposed to the environment and there are no barriers between you and the people you meet. It means you’re on more of an equal footing – flesh and blood, something drivers of cars tend to forget. It makes you part of the community.

On trips through East and West Africa, I’ve been amazed at the degrees to which bikes connect communities over areas inaccessible to cars, how they lighten traffic congestion in cities, and in some parts like Malawi, southern Uganda, Benin and Mali, they do most of the heavy lifting, be it big mamma, her daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren, or a fortnight’s supply of firewood. They’ve replaced four-legged beasts of burden; they might yet replace four-wheeled ones.

The slopes of the Ndali-Kasenda craters in western Uganda are ideal for growing sub-tropical fruit. Formed by volcanic activity about 10 000 years ago, these dormant craters are now filled with lakes and are a wonderful stopover on the way to the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains, or Kibale National Park which is famous for its primates.

The school run takes on a different dimension in a small Rwandan town. ‘No bickering in the back, please.’

Taxi Motos are the predominant means of transport in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, and in a competitive environment, it’s Important for taxi drivers to stand out. The Rwandan government ultimately aims to make the country’s entire fleet go electric.

The informal charcoal industry is devastating the hardwood forests of Zambia; many traders use bicyles to ply their trade.

It’s a long road between the city of Arusha and the Serengeti in Tanzania, and these Maasai men have a deadline to meet.

Throughout Malawi there are more bicycles on the roads than cars and they do a great deal of ‘freight’ transporting. The bicycle taxi is also a dominant form of public transport in towns. More than 45% of rural (about seven million people) use a bicycle as their primary mode of transportation.

Yes, those fuel containers are full. In the muddy lanes of Porto-Novo, Benin, the skill at loading goods is matched only by the ability to keep rusty old machines moving.

After pumping water from a communal well, a mother carries her child and liquid load back to her village near Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique.

It’s not all hard work and haulage. A father and son take some time out in Segou, Mali, a picturesque town on the banks of the Niger River.

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