Why Africa needs more cycling


Velo-city 2013 in Vienna will be the world’s biggest conference on urban cycling. The conference does not only attract traffic planners and politicians from all over the globe, it’s also going to see some of Africa’s best and brightest bicycle experts. We had a chat to Osita Benjamin Chidoka, Chief Executive of the Federal Road Safety Corps, Nigeria and a speaker at Velo-city 2013 in Vienna.

   The Corps Marshal and Chief Executive, Osita Chidoka(right) with the Former President President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, flanged by Otunba Johnson Fasawe (Left).

How can policy makers in developing countries tackle challenges such as urban poverty, access to economic opportunity or equitable access to transport?

Current mainstream development theory seems to suggest that if countries want economic development, then they need roads. And, a lot of them. A view still shared by many politicians and experts shaping development policies throughout the globe. Of course, to be mobile means to have better access to markets and work opportunities so improved mobility of a countries population can catalyse economic development. The question is which model for mobility do the development policies follow?

Flick for example through Tony Blair’s 2005 report on the Commission for Africa, you’ll read that Africa must “double infrastructure spending” citing approximately €20 billion for rural roads and regional highways. But, is paving hundreds of kilometres of highways through rural areas in Africa the right strategy to achieve prosperity and (sustainable) development?

“Our attitude to development is that more asphalt, more highways, more cars will mean that our country is developing,” says Mr. Chidoka, who heads Nigeria’s Federal Road Safety Corps. But the question is rather the quality of such development.

“You get to the point where you see what others are done, and you realize that that’s not the way to go,” Chidoka adds. We believe that Mister Chidoka is right:

Globally speaking, car centric policy comes at a huge social cost: more than a million people die on roads every year, and another 50 million are injured. Air pollution is at least equally dangerous, with the WHO reporting 1.3 million deaths per year caused by bad air. Road accidents actually kill more people than Malaria, and it’s expected that by 2030, it will be even surpass HIV/AIDs.

Perhaps you could argue for keeping our current car-oriented development polices, if we actually moved a little quicker, but the average speed of traffic is similar to the days of horse and cart. (Let’s not forget that OECD countries see 3% of GDP thrown away in traffic jams.)


Learning from the West’s mistakes in favoring a car-oriented development model could save decades of headaches for rapidly developing countries in Africa or Asia.

“We need to fast-track our understanding that we have limited resources, and we need to maximize their use. We need to find cheap effective means of transport,” explains Chidoka, who believes that a mere focus on more cars, and more highways may well not be the best answer.

Cycling: It Makes Economic Sense.

Cycling as the most equitable form of urban transport can move more people at a lower cost. In Africa, where money for transport can be scarce, cycling makes economic sense.

“In Denmark $ 170 million worth of infrastructure investment gets you one kilometre of metro,” says Chidoka. But “many African countries can’t afford Metro” he adds.

The same can be said for road infrastructure. It’s frightfully expensive to invest in auto-mobility. Chidoka feels that globalization has meant Nigerians travelling abroad who have seen top quality infrastructure, and want their country to have the same. Yet who would pay for it?

“If you want to have world class highways, you have to put the money into it. I gave the example, of Israel. With a very small land area, it spends about $5 billion every year on roads. Nigeria spends less than $1 billion dollars in ten years,” explains Chidoka.

“We don’t have the resources to have the kind of infrastructure that is in place in the West. It doesn’t exist,” he adds. So where is the leverage for countries with limited budgets to develop meaningful and effective policies for development and provision of mobility?

This is where bicycle infrastructure could represent serious value for money. For the cost of one kilometre of urban freeway you could build 150km of bicycle paths, 10,000km of bicycle lanes or 100 well designed 30kmph zones. In Africa, a two metre wide unpaved bicycle trail would cost less than 10% of building a 6 metre wide rural road for motor vehicles.

Changing Perceptions

Ma Nuo, a 22 year old woman from Beijing on a dating show made global headlines a few years ago when she said: “I’d rather cry in the back of your BMW than laugh on the back of your bicycle”.

People working to lobby for bicycle-supportive policies in Africa, Asia and even parts of Europe still have to tackle such backward images of bicycle use. Cars are a still a symbol of wealth, while cycling is often regulated to the status of poverty, child’s play or physical exercise. Nigeria, like many countries in Africa, struggles to have cycling considered as viable form of transport for the urban elite.

Mister Chidoka’s organisation – the Federal Road Safety Corps of Nigeria – is going ways which are at pace with promotion strategies for urban cycling in Europe or the US. “We’re trying to change that perception. Trying to make people see that it’s about choice, it’s about freedom, it’s about equity and it’s about mobility.” Says Chidoka about the rationale behind his organisation’s cycling promotion activities.

Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city desperately needs more people in the saddle of a bicycle. With an estimated population of 14 million, Lagos is currently one of the fastest growing cities on the African continent. Yet, 2 million vehicles crammed into a small area have grounded traffic to a halt in the city. According to Chidoka, the average daily commute in Lagos takes more than two hours each way. In this metropolis however, government officials are starting to take steps to change attitudes.

“The government of Lagos is trying to introduce a bicycle culture,” says Chidoka. He explains that “they’re thinking about having a day for bicycle in the city centre only. The Commissioners and the Governors have been trying to ride bicycles to promote it as a form of movement.”

Undoubtedly, it’s going to take time for change, yet more cycling in Africa’s most populous nation could be a beacon for change, not only in Africa, but worldwide. We wish that Velo-city 2013 can be a venue for exchange of successful and innovative strategies to make important and ambitious goals of for example the administration of Lagos a reality.

To conclude this article we want to make one thing very clear: We see urban cycling and the bicycle as a smart and highly potential tool for city-making and the creation of sustainable development policies. Just as the developed world increasingly realizes that the car-oriented model might not be the smartest solution for our society, the developed world might take the chance to not run into the trap of the car-oriented development model but rather use the potentials of the bicycle for the benefit of their peoples. With the professional exchange during Velo-city 2013 in Vienna we aim to facilitate such a process.

Many thanks to Mister Chidoka for the interview.


Velo-city 2013 Vienna | Cycling Stories


Julian Ferguson

European Cyclists’ Federation

Florian Lorenz

Velo-city 2013 Communications Team