Expanding Bicycle Use in Ghana
One of the surprise highlights of Taylor's visit to Village Bicycle Project in Ghana was a visit to the Ghana Olympic Committee and Ghana Cycling Federation. Two days prior, while visiting a technical high school in Accra that had received 40 bikes from VBP earlier in 2023, one of the educators at the school broached the topic of integrating technical education focused on bikes with his involvement with the Ghana Cycling Federation.
Mr. Ebenezer Annor suggested that we arrange a meeting with the Federation and explore ways that VBP could directly partner to amplify the work of the Ghanaian government to increase the number of people using bikes for transportation and recreation across the country.
Mr. Annor, along with Mr. Rudolph Mensah, the head mechanic for the Ghana Cycling Federation and a 2-time Paralympic track cyclist (he is the sighted pilot for a blind cyclist meaning he is the captain of their tandem track bike), had a vision to expand educational and employment opportunities for secondary school students by leveraging their connection with VBP to provide not just bikes but also hands-on learning. While many of the students we met wanted to become engineers or pilots, they recognized the complementarity of bicycle mechanics as a learning module.
Out of these conversations, and learning about their efforts to expand the impact of the Ghana Cycling Federation beyond just recreation and sport, Mr. Annor and Mr. Mensah arranged the meeting with Mr. Shaban Mohammed and his staff. During the course of that meeting Taylor learned about the Ghanaian government's efforts to improve societal health by sponsoring cyclovias (open streets events) in Accra to encourage bike use for transport, fitness and as a means to reduce urban pollution.
Separate from VBP's one-day workshops and learn-to-ride programs, which are based in primary and secondary schools, the Federation had been running pilot efforts to get more kids on bikes. This program received seed money from the French Embassy and taught students how to ride, including defensive riding tactics, and basic road safety skills. The objective of these pilot initiatives was to show school headmasters that students can learn and grow from these programs, which is crucial since, according to Mr. Mohammed, "the students are the future of Ghana".
The cycling for schools programs have a strong advocate in the Ministry of Education where the head of Physical Education is a member of the Ghana Olympic Committee and Ghana Cycling Federation. He wants to expand this program beyond Accra & Tamale and make it nationwide in all primary and secondary schools. Safety education will be a cornerstone of this expanded program, which has taken the public open streets concept and shrunk it down to a school-based scale where it happens in public parks. Youth are encouraged to participate and provided scholarships for their participation and performance. The Ministry of Education has also been trailing church-based programs to encourage youth cycling.
The Federation has also been lobbying government agencies like the police and military to get more of their employees using bikes in Accra. The goal is to normalize bike use by putting public employees on bikes and showing the general population that bikes aren't reserved only for those with low incomes. The government security services have been open minded about this approach and found that bike use among their employees has increased driving performance which makes roads safer for all road users, regardless of their mode of travel.
To further normalize bike use, there has been a push for all government ministries to provide bikes and bike safety/maintenance education to all government employees, regardless of agency. This is a big long term goal, but every movement needs that halo target, and this would be a big step towards the Ghanaian government's goal to have 50% of all trips in Accra be made by bike by 2030!
One of the key pieces to making that happen will be increased mechanical knowledge among the general population. There are over 200 bike repair shops in Accra alone, however, many of the shop owners/employees lack deep knowledge or access to bicycle-specific tools. This is even more apparent in larger secondary cities like Kumasi and Tamale. The Federation and its partners recognize this and have begun to lay the groundwork for a standardized educational coursework for shop owners and students who wish to work in that field.
Rudolph Mensah, the head mechanic for the National team, received a UCI scholarship to their professional mechanic training course in Switzerland. The UCI is the worldwide governing body for bicycle racing and certifies all professional mechanics working for teams and races like the Tour de France. Rudolph has benefitted from the UCI's efforts to grow the sport beyond its traditional European focus and now has the chance to share his knowledge with other mechanics in Ghana. This is because the Ghana Cycling Federation received 20 scholarships for mechanics to attend a 3-part online UCI training module. The intended outcome of this training is for each of those mechanics to train 10-20 other mechanics and so on. This way of learning from others will ensure that there is a strong network of trained mechanics across the country.
That is where this story comes back full circle! The Ghana Cycling Federation and Village Bicycle Project just signed an agreement to work together "to promote adoption and usage of bicycles for sports & transport in urban, peri-urban and rural communities in Ghana."
There are six major objectives of this project:
- To help promote the adoption and use of bicycles for health, sports and transport through the creation of public awareness on the values and impact of cycling.
- Assist the parties in mobilizing, and inspiring a growing network of bicycle advocates at the schools, institutions and community levels.
- To work with bicycle market system stakeholders and the Municipal Assemblies to advocate for Government to improve non-motorized transport facilities to encourage bicycle use in Ghana.
- Assist to conduct outreach and communications to bicycle importers, wholesalers and retailers, business associations, cycling clubs, bicycle mechanics, and community leaders.
- Reviewing existing operational programs and practices related to bicycle systems and making suggestions for new sustainable approaches consistent with Government policy.
- Identifying existing and potential barriers to bicycle use and to address these by developing, and implementing sustainable strategies.
We are proud to support Village Bicycle Project as they embark on this partnership to make Ghana a better place by providing more bikes, more education and more opportunities for everyone.