bicycles in Uganda can make you go dizzy


EVERY so often one falls upon a random story that carries no excitement until one exercises the brain a little bit.

This week it’s about ‘Fred’s Bicycles’, which has further delayed my treatise on the boda-boda mentality that plagues my people and I.

‘Fred’s Bicycles’ was started a few years ago by Jonny Coppel and Tom Freds Bicycle 2Davenport, in London, after Davenport visited Uganda on holiday one year and “…saw the ‘beautiful’ bikes used by farmers in Uganda to ferry cattle…”, at which point “he immediately saw the appeal they might have back home.”

Four years later, the story continues, “the 26-year old strategy consultant and his school friend Jonny Coppel, 25, are selling their own bicycles based on those in Uganda, as well as giving back to the place where it all started.”
I have issues with the “giving back” part of the story because it fits comfortably into the lazy narrative that Europeans have of countries like Uganda, but we will talk about that later in life.

More importantly, this story underscored to me once again the importance of a good education, rather than the instructive one-plus-one-equals-two type of schooling many of us got.

This is not to say that all British young men who visit Uganda are well educated enough to do what Davenport and Coppel did, but the fact that they came over here and identified opportunity out of an item that we actually despise as a sign of poverty and backwardness, means they are well educated.

The two young men also reminded me how much we have around us that we take for granted and yet could be very highly valued elsewhereFreds Bicycle 1 (Their bikes go for £249 each – about Ushs1.1million each).

The bicycles they talk about were not even designed or made in Uganda; from the photos on the website, these are what we used to call Hero bicycles, which eventually gave way to Roadmaster Cycles.

One other website containing a research paper by United States university Professor Jason A. Morris, even states that the Hero Bicycle was “originally built in 1913 for the British military, and it has not changed since”.

This researcher came all the way from the US to Hoima to design a bicycle for Ugandan use to replace the Hero and Roadmaster bicycles. His efforts are available in that research paper but I, personally, know nothing of the results being on the road.

Instead, I know Roadmaster Cycles started assembling bicycles here at some point at a US$6million facility (press reports say) in Nalukolongo in 1993, after seeing the opportunity in a populace that had poor roads then, lots of agricultural activity, and incomes too limited to fund car manufacturing or even assembly.
Surprisingly, to me, their website displays a wide range of products including bicycles for children! And yet, somehow, most monied people are riding mostly second hand bicycles coming in from the same England that Davenport and Coppel are selling their bikes, inspired by Uganda, or bicycles imported from South Africa and further afield.

Confusing?

What about the realisation that on the day I fell upon this story of Uganda’s inspiration, I saw three stories in one newspaper talking about sums of money being earned by Ugandans -Ushs100billion, Ushs15billion and Ushs400million – yet none of these will ever be converted into bicycle manufacture, assembly or anything similar anywhere in the country.

Wait! Wait! What is the most notable bicycle story YOU can think of…? Yes! The one in which Permanent Secretary John Kashaka was convicted over the sham importation of bicycles worth Ushs4billion, right?

You would probably have been less confused about it if the 70,000 bicycles in question there had been ordered direct from the Roadmaster Assembly Plant in Nalukolongo, wouldn’t you?

But according to the Public Procurement and Disposal Authority (PPDA) Investigation Report into the matter, Roadmaster was not even one of the bidders that successfully submitted bids – which list included names such as “Nile Fishing Company Limited and Shinyanga Emporium”.

I swear – go to this link for the full report  and see for yourself!

Yet, in March 2011, Roadmaster Cycles appeared in press reports alongside John Kashaka as he officiated at the distribution of 5,200 bicycles to Parish Chiefs (LCs). The bicycles, read the report, were worth Ushs669million (each just over Ushs128,000 – about a tenth of the cost of Fred’s Bicycles…) – and were distributed at the Roadmaster premises.
Exactly one year later, Roadmaster Cycles registered a complaint with the PPDA because the company had reportedly submitted the lowest bid of Ushs5.2billion for the supply of 30,000 bicycles, but the tender had gone to the wrongly named (for this purpose) Nile Fishing Company Limited who had won the tender to supply the bikes at Ushs6.4billion…
According to press reports, the Permanent Secretary who had replaced Kashaka, Patrick Mutabwire, said Roadmaster had no basis for complaint; see, under the winning bid: “Each bicycle would be delivered here at about US$85 (about Ushs200,000) yet on the open market they go for Ushs400,000 each…” (yet just a year prior to that, they had cost Ushs128,000 each!)
Bicycles can really make you go dizzy…

5 thoughts on “bicycles in Uganda can make you go dizzy

  1. Sometimes I think I can have an ‘ok’ day and then u read such an article and my heart breaks. We have so much potential and yet the one percenters(read those in high political and administrative authority) are literally fighting to bring us down. I do hope that we will get one or two that see Uganda for what it is and fight to do good for its citizens. All we need is two people, you and I.. to do what is best and we will have a ripple effect, in our own small way.

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    1. @Ainembabazi: My thoughts exactly! And the revelations in the bicycle deals should not dishearten you, but should make all of us more alert and serious about the way this country is managed. Indeed, let US join that one percent and displace the people there who do so little good or so much bad!

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  2. Well well, a bicycle was one of the most useful things to me and most my family when I was a little man. I will never forget the Roadmaster, my dad’s person Phoenix and the brand new Hero we acquired when the Roadmaster had seen its good days.

    Today, we are importing used bicycles from all over the world.

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