Swiss bikes in Tanzania: A better life on two wheels


By Tomas Wüthrich

More than 22,000 worn-out bicycles travel from Switzerland to the African continent each year. A Swiss company collects and repairs old bikes and ships them south.

Already as a teenager, Paolo Richter was interested in bike mechanics. In 1993 he founded the organization Drahteselexternal link, to which Velafricaexternal link belongs. During a development mission in Ghana, he saw people straining for hours to transport heavy loads by foot. This gave him the idea to export used bikes to Africa.

The secondhand bikes from Switzerland are popular in Tanzania. They are more robust and often cheaper than the Chinese ones sold at the local market. But every bike needs repairs and maintenance, which is why Velafrica builds workshops, trains local mechanics, and ensures the supply of spare parts and tools. It creates jobs, training and income opportunities in the region, and the locals get access to affordable and robust bicycles.

In Nshamba, Tanzania, Velafrica’s partner is the Vijana Bicycle Centerexternal link (VBC). Youths orphaned because of AIDS train and work at the VBC Velocity Workshop. Since 2011, 37 young men and women have completed their apprenticeships in bicycle mechanics.

Swiss bicycles go on sale after they’ve been repaired and tested. Profits flow back into the enterprise as well as into a solidarity fund.


Categories: Africa, Switzerland

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