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A Bicycle Is an Anti-Poverty Machine

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 03/03/2022 - 7:00pm in

Every morning in Galapa, a small town on the outskirts of Barranquilla, Colombia, Jorge Romero walked his 13-year-old daughter Mariangel to school, and every afternoon he accompanied her back home. The four-kilometer trek would be too dangerous for a girl to walk on her own, and the family can’t afford other means of transportation. But walking his daughter to school meant that Romero, a day laborer, sacrificed getting into the labor queue early in the day, missing opportunities to work.

Like many families in Galapa, the Romeros are refugees from Venezuela who spent much of their savings crossing the border two years ago. Mariangel shares the simple two-bedroom home with eight family members. Most of the family sleeps in one bedroom, reserving the other to store their few prized possessions — including the Buffalo Bicycle that Mariangel recently received from World Bicycle Relief (WBR), a Chicago-based nonprofit that shared Mariangel’s story with Reasons to be Cheerful

Mariangel Romero with her family — and her bike — in Galapa. Credit: WBR

“Bicycles are a really overlooked tool for people to access opportunities,” WBR CEO Dave Neiswander says. “There’s a billion people that are challenged to find reliable transportation. Bicycles are a very efficient way for them to help themselves, which is what intrigued me from the beginning.” 

Despite the high hopes that families have for their daughters’ futures in many communities in Colombia, barriers often stand in the way of girls’ education. Before making the long trek to school, many girls must complete chores and take care of younger siblings, sacrificing time spent on schoolwork. But with a bicycle, they can save hours of time, arrive at school safely and have more energy to learn.

Levison Sibanda, a conservation ranger in Zimbabwe, travels up to 30 kilometers to reach the boundaries of his post, clocking over 600 kilometers per month. Credit: WBR

“In development, we talk about last-mile supply chain,” Neiswander states via Zoom from his field office in Zambia, wearing a black shirt with the slogan Pedal to Empower. “How do you get vaccines out? How do you distribute mosquito nets? How do you actually empower people to reach those distances?” 

Other nonprofits donate bicycles, too, but WBR has focused on the bikes as the primary method to bring education, health care and jobs to poor regions. Since its inception in 2005, WBR has given away more than 635,000 bicycles, mostly in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Kenya and Malawi, but also in Colombia and Sri Lanka. Crucially, the gift comes with a contract. “We work with the entire community, the local school, the churches, the community leaders,” Neiswander says. “We do a need assessment and create a bicycle supervisory committee with members from the community. Who receives a bicycle gets posted on a public board, so it’s very transparent. When we give a girl a bicycle, we expect her to use it to go to school for at least two years.” 

WBR has implemented a rather rigorous impact assessment: How many more patients is a healthcare worker able to see because they have a bicycle? The answer: 88 percent. How does school attendance increase? The group’s Wheels of Change study followed 2,471 girls from 100 primary schools in three districts in Zambia and found that absenteeism decreased by 28 percent, dropout rates decreased by 19 percent and punctuality increased by 66 percent. 

In addition to their charitable arm, which provides bicycles to students and healthcare workers through study-to-own and work-to-own programs, WBR also runs a social enterprise that allows workers to purchase the sturdy bicycles at cost and pay them off in small increments. “It happened because after we started, we got so many requests from people who wanted to buy one. We didn’t want to run a sales shop, but we wanted to help people,” Neiswander explains. “So we started a social enterprise that is 100 percent owned by WBR.”

The bicycles help dairy farmers deliver their milk to their clients, doctors to see their patients in rural areas and farmers to carry their produce to the market. WBR cooperates with organizations such as UNICEF, which bought 20,000 bicycles from them for its agricultural program. Studies in Africa have shown that a bicycle can increase a family’s income by as much as 35 percent. 

Edward Ndlovu, a water pump minder in the dry region of Hwange, Zimbabwe, often travels up to 20 kilometers on his bicycle to fix broken water pumps. Credit: WBR

WBR was founded in 2005 by F.K. Day, a co-founder of the Chicago-based company SRAM, one of the world’s largest makers of bicycle parts, and Leah Missbach Day, a documentary filmmaker, as an emergency response to provide transportation after the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. Next, the Days wanted to address the HIV/AIDS crisis in Zambia by providing bicycles to health workers and vulnerable households, but sturdy bikes that withstood the rugged dirt roads were hard to find there. “We affectionately called them bicycle-shaped objects,” Neiswander remembers with a laugh. “When we put them through our testing protocols they just fell apart, pedals snapped off, the brakes never worked. We were like, whoa, we can’t in good conscience give 23,000 bicycles to health care workers in a HIV/AIDS program if the bicycles don’t serve their needs.” 

So WBR’s engineers designed the sturdy “Buffalo Bicycle.” It weighs 50 pounds, costs about $165 and can support up to 220 pounds. It has no light, but it rarely breaks down, features reliable all-weather coaster brakes, is built for long distances on bumpy terrain, and can easily be repaired. WBR also trained more than 2,300 mechanics who now work at 60 bicycle repair shops as part of WBR’s social enterprise arm, thus creating jobs.

Locadio Mpofu, a childcare worker and women’s savings group facilitator in Hwange, Zimbabwe, had to abandon several women’s groups because of the distance before she got her bicycle. Now she sometimes travels 34 kilometers to other villages. Credit: WBR

Neiswander acknowledges that implementing the programs came with a learning curve. “We made a lot of mistakes in the beginning.” For him, working with the locals, including teachers and health workers, is crucial to determine the most pressing transportation needs in the area and provide accountability. For instance, a family recently claimed a bike had been stolen while the community thought they had sold it for profit. No definitive conclusion was reached, but Neiswander believes this shows why the village committees are important so that residents hold each other accountable. For example, a girl who does not go to school after receiving a bike will need to return the bike. 

Neiswander had worked as an investment banker for 15 years and met the Days on safari in Kenya in 2007. Their idea sounded so convincing that he gave his notice six weeks later and moved to Zambia to set up WBR’s operation in Africa. “Best decision of my life,” the jovial CEO says with a wide smile. His enthusiasm shines through his passionate pitch for why bicycles create an “ecosystem of mobility” in these communities. 

Mariangel has big dreams for herself and her family, too. She hopes to one day move to the United States and study music, dance and guitar. In the meantime, her Buffalo Bicycle is helping her attain the education that could get her there. 

“Especially in girls’ education, where girls are walking 10 or 15 kilometers to get to school, having a bicycle can be a game changer,” says Neiswander, “and that really is a key to break the cycles of poverty and disease in developing regions around the world.” 

The post A Bicycle Is an Anti-Poverty Machine appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

EU Chief Defends Vaccine Patents as ‘Precious’ as South Africa Demands Waiver

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 20/02/2022 - 10:54pm in

Failure to grant patent waivers under the WTO's TRIPS Agreement has stalled ramping up of production in Africa and other developing countries of coronavirus vaccines.

Opening Our Eyes to the Cost of Empire: Why We Must Demand the Return of Nigeria’s Benin Bronzes

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 16/02/2022 - 8:00pm in


Africa, empire, history

Opening Our Eyes to the Cost of Empire Why We Must Demand the Return of Nigeria’s Benin Bronzes

Paddy Docherty explains how research for his book on the 1897 invasion of the Kingdom of Benin left him ashamed – an emotion he believes must be converted into action


The Benin Bronzes were plundered from what is now Nigeria in a brutal act of violence by British forces in 1897. The unavoidable conclusion of any honest assessment of the invasion of the Kingdom of Benin late in the reign of Queen Victoria is that they must be returned.

All arguments against the return of the Bronzes amount to an attempt to hang on to the highly valuable artefacts regardless of right and wrong. Indeed, the leading barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC is clear that the attack on Benin was a war crime under the legal standards of both 1897 and the present day. Despite this, some interested parties work to retain the Bronzes in Britain on questionable grounds, such as the loss of public accessibility should they be returned to Nigeria.

These efforts are based on the assumption that Britain would lose out if these artworks were to be sent home: a priceless collection of cultural treasures would no longer be on British soil.

I would like to suggest that, on the contrary, we would also benefit greatly by returning the Bronzes to Nigeria. It could be a landmark step in what has been the long and sometimes difficult process of Britain finding its place in the world as it is today.

As a country, we have not properly reconciled ourselves with the legacy of the British Empire. One reason may be because there has never been a decisive break with the imperial era, such as a comprehensive military defeat or a revolution. Britain has had no such moment of forced reflection and reorganisation: we have shed an empire but otherwise our state and society remain much the same.

This factor has arguably allowed us to feel an inappropriate national ambivalence about the realities of the imperial project, and we have not addressed the violence and oppression that were an integral part of it. Witness, for example, the numerous books and articles in recent years that defend the existence of the British Empire on the grounds that we built some railways in India, or some other ‘balance sheet’ claim.

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In the cultural realm, we do not always handle our past with total honesty. Consider our consumption of countless remakes of Jane Austen novels on television and in the cinema, which are presented with almost no recognition that the lives of luxury enjoyed by the characters depicted were very often paid for by the labours of enslaved African people being worked to death on a Caribbean sugar plantation. 

Much worse than this cultural complacency is the way in which politicians of all stripes resort to empire-flavoured rhetoric to flatter the electorate (most egregiously on display in the Brexit campaign) – a factor that helps explain our tendency to remember only the most photogenic parts of the British Empire story.

Thus, we can celebrate our involvement in ending the slave trade after 1807 without also recognising that Britain was for decades the leading slave-trading nation in the world.

Political decolonisation – the retreat from imperial rule that began in the 1940s – should ideally have been followed by a socio-cultural process of coming to terms with our new position in the world and the impact of the colonial period. This could be thought of as collectively decolonising our minds and outlooks, commensurate with our reduced political claims on the world.

One important element of that would be putting right some of the wrongs that we committed during the long colonial era. Naturally, the legacy of empire is so deeply imbued in British history and culture that we cannot even think of reversing it entirely, but we can tackle some of the most glaring injustices – and certainly those within easy reach. Sending the Benin Bronzes home to Nigeria is one such case.

By amending the British Museum Act of 1963, the Government could make it happen without delay and follow the lead of Germany, which has committed to returning the large collection of Benin pieces in its public museums.

The campaign to achieve this outcome has, of course, been led by several Nigerian figures over the decades, not least the Oba of Benin himself, and they have recently had some notable successes in securing the return of artefacts from several institutions. The people of Nigeria have the most direct interest in seeing their priceless heritage return home; the people of Britain, on the other hand, have the most direct responsibility to undo the wrong committed by British forces in 1897. 

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Hannah Charlton

This was brought home to me when I began the research for what would become my book, Blood and Bronze. I was profoundly shocked by what I found in the National Archives.

In the Foreign Office files, I came upon a set of papers that show beyond doubt that a senior British official was guilty of inflicting a reign of terror upon the Niger Coast Protectorate in the early 1890s. Among his many lawless acts, surely the most egregious, was a truly grotesque sexual crime of great cruelty. What was even more astounding was that, alongside this evidence, I unearthed documentary proof that the Prime Minister of the day – Lord Salisbury – had personal knowledge of these crimes but conspired to cover them up. The official in question was never punished and retired early on a pension.

In addition to this particular case, I found multiple instances of extreme violence by British officials, coupled with profound racism, greed and hypocrisy, all leading up to the conquest and destruction of the Kingdom of Benin. These unpleasant phenomena were not entirely new to me, being familiar with British Empire history, but the scale and severity of the bloodshed in West Africa in the 1890s was a surprise.

The process of researching and writing this book therefore caused me increasing shame: it is impossible to read endless reports of villages being burned, and of women and children being starved to death, without feeling appalled. 

Shame and guilt are in themselves useless impulses, however, unless they prompt change or action. British citizens must acknowledge our collective culpability and demand a change in the law to return the Benin Bronzes to their rightful home.

‘Blood and Bronze: The British Empire and the Sack of Benin’ by Paddy Docherty is published by Hurst Publishers




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Peasants Marginalized by Big Farms

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 16/02/2022 - 1:55am in

Why big farms are often not better.

Resist Inflation Phobia Coup

Efforts to cure inflation, at least for poorer countries, will prove to be more damaging than the disease.

Africa Faces an Uphill Battle Against Western Emissions to Combat Climate Change

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 13/01/2022 - 9:55pm in

African nations are disproportionately vulnerable to climate change, even though .the continent accounts for the smallest share of global greenhouse gas emissions – 3.8%.

More Cheery Omicron News

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/12/2021 - 10:45pm in

The latest Omicron findings.

Climate Change: Adapt for the Future, Not the Past

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/12/2021 - 6:55pm in

Climate adaptation in the global South needs to be addressed through development. Moving from de-risking to diversification requires a developmental state committed to ‘green’ industrial policy – involving investment and technology.

A Monthly Ritual of Selflessness Has Transformed Rwanda

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/12/2021 - 7:00pm in

Jean Luc remembers how, when he was very young, his parents would leave their house in Kimihurura, a neighborhood of Kigali, once a month in a good mood. He didn’t know what they were smiling about. 

“I would always eavesdrop on my parents whenever they came [back] from it,” he says. “It always seemed like something that brightened their Saturdays.”

Now 21 years old, it brightens Luc’s Saturdays, too.

Luc, along with just about every able-bodied Rwandan aged 18 to 65, participates in the monthly activity known as “Umuganda,” a Kinyarwanda word that means “coming together in common purpose.” On the last Saturday of every month, from 8 to 11 a.m., Rwandans across the country gather together to partake in community improvement projects. In Luc’s neighborhood, this has meant trimming back bushes that attract malaria-spreading mosquitoes, and making sure roads are clear of trash and debris. “It not only ensured that we have a clean environment,” he says, “but also had a long-run positive effect on our health and physical wellbeing. And you know what they say, a healthy nation leads to a wealthy nation.”

umugandaUmuganda has existed in Rwanda for centuries as a cultural emphasis on communal problem solving. Credit: Paul Kagame Press

According to Luc, these monthly gatherings have helped his community recover from a long, devastating period of genocide, making it clean, innovative, loving and self-reliant. Across the country, in ways big and small, the tradition of Umuganda has unfolded in similar fashion, helping Rwanda to piece itself back together and recover from ruin. 

Umuganda has existed in Rwanda for centuries as a cultural emphasis on communal problem solving. At times, however, it has been leveraged to beat people down rather than uplift them. In the 1970s, Umuganda was used as a ritual of forced labor as Rwandans were required to work without pay at the behest of their community leader twice a week. Later, in 1994, the concept was exploited to devastating effect as ethnic Hutu elites mobilized their supporters to kill minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus in a violent perversion of Umuganda.  

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Following the Rwandan genocide, the government re-established Umuganda in 2001. In 2009, it was institutionalized as a government policy under the Ministry of Local Government, Good Governance, Community Development and Social Affairs.

Today, Umuganda projects range from helping a neighbor construct a shelter to building a community hospital. Sometimes it’s as simple as a community coming together to pick up litter. Other Umuganda projects are more unexpected — for instance, it has been used to collect voice data from Rwandans in an initiative to make voice assistants like Siri and Google Assistant more inclusive. For projects that can’t be completed entirely through Umuganda, participants get things started, then fill the gap by contributing money to hand the work over to specialists. 

Though Umuganda is a national phenomenon, the mobilization of it takes place at the community level. Credit: Paul Kagame Press

President Paul Kagame has received praise for turning Rwanda’s fortunes around. Today, a country that was once known for brutal ethnic cleansing and dysfunction is relatively safe and orderly. Rwanda’s public spaces are famously clean, thanks, in part, to a pioneering plastic bag ban enacted in 2008. And after years of violent division, a remarkable cultural unity now prevails. 

Kagame’s politics, however, have faced scrutiny over the years. In office for 21 years, he heads an authoritarian government with his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) party accused of quashing dissent and exerting total political control. Then there’s the question of how voluntary Umuganda really is. According to the law, anyone who fails to participate without a valid reason can be charged a fine of 5,000 Rwandan Francs (close to USD $5). Critics also question Umuganda’s top-down approach, arguing it bears an eerie resemblance to the exploitative version employed during Rwanda’s colonial and post-colonial period.

Even without enforcement, however, the practice of Umuganda has seeped into the culture of Rwanda, says Patrick Karekezi, a Kigali-based community development consultant. “We’re a homogeneous community,” he says, “people who are united, sharing a common language, common culture. We are looking beyond the tribe and ethnic divisions.”

Umuganda projects range from picking up litter to building a community hospital. Photo: Paul Kagame Press

Though Umuganda is a national phenomenon, the mobilization of it takes place at the community level — specifically, in “cells” of at least 50 households called Umudugudu. Spearheaded by a community leader, members of a cell often use the mobile messaging service WhatsApp to work out the logistics. This small-scale organizational structure is key to making Umuganda work. “If you miss [Umuganda],” says Karekezi, “it feels like you’re the only person out of the 50 houses that has missed, and that is why you are not going to find people missing.”

Amid pandemic lockdowns, Umuganda has adapted, finding ways to continue even when physical gatherings aren’t possible. When a lockdown commenced in Rwanda in March 2020, Rwandans continued to observe Umuganda in their own spaces. 

“The spirit is still there,” says Luc. “I remember during the first lockdown when we were all unsure of what the future was going to be, we still found solace in doing something similar within our own homes.”

umugandaVaccinated citizens and community leaders, through Umuganda, have encouraged their neighbors to get vaccinated. Credit: Paul Kagame Press

In Kicukiro district, however, resident Robert Mugabo has taken part in what he refers to as special Umuganda: Those that take place in a safe manner to meet urgent needs in the community in spite of the pandemic. For instance, soon after Rwanda’s lockdown began, a Ministry of Education analysis found that classrooms were overwhelmed, which would pose a challenge to ridding the country of Covid-19. The government set a plan to construct over 22,500 classrooms and 31,932 latrines across the country​​’s 30 districts, and asked citizens to help. “We were really helping them to bring the bricks and the water, in a nutshell,” says Mugabo. “That‘s something we do happily and in a good way, and in as short a time as possible.”

According to Mugabo, this work was not mandatory.“We don’t take the whole day there, we do shifts,” he says. “For example, I go in the morning and maybe tomorrow I go in the evening as much as I get the time.” 

In other instances, to combat vaccine hesitancy, vaccinated citizens and community leaders, through Umuganda, have encouraged their neighbors to get vaccinated. 

Luc thinks Umuganda has value beyond the projects themselves, promoting self-reliance among Rwandans. “When you see something wrong within your surroundings, you do not wait for someone else to come and do it for you, you just go for it and do it,” he says. “Is your road dirty? There are bushes growing around your house? Does your neighbor have no shelter? Do Umuganda. Solve the problem yourselves.”

The post A Monthly Ritual of Selflessness Has Transformed Rwanda appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: No, Covid 19 Is Not an Old Person Problem

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/12/2021 - 10:15pm in

Yves here. Nassim Nicholas Taleb shreds the misguided logic behind Covid age-ism. And that’s before getting to the fact that in South Africa, the notion that the old are more likely to get really sick is simply not true: The newscaster starts by describing an “exponential” rise in cases, then interviews the head of ICU […]