May 28 2009

Bikes for Rwanda

by at 2:23 pm under Uncategorized

Economic stability in post-genocide Rwanda can be spurred through something as simple as the establishment of a local bicycle industry. This blog post, which promotes bikes for the development of Rwanda, is inspired from a network analysis of the NGO efforts of Project Rwanda, a non-profit “committed to furthering the economic development of Rwanda through initiatives based on the bicycle as a tool and symbol of hope.” In the context of globalization, an organization such as Project Rwanda can generate a structural change with a new fitness landscape that produces positive externalities for the citizens of Rwanda, one of the bottom-billion countries that Paul Collier cites. This strategy of bringing in bicycles to communities in Rwanda can ultimately generate local, horizontal ties to evolve the country into a structural hole in the global market network.

Stimulating the Rwandan economy brings in a mosaic of players that encompasses not just aid relief organizations and the Rwandan government, but also industrial organizations. Within Rwanda’s network economy, there are particular nodal points—coffee farmers—that can benefit through an industrial upgrading, as represented through the delivery and distribution of special-use bicycles that address the specific needs of the country’s coffee growers.

The bicycle, though hardly a new technology, is a simple and sustainable form of mobility that can significantly enhance a farmer’s efforts—particularly in that of developing countries.  Rwanda’s entry into the global market comes in the form of coffee exports; bicycles are used to speed up the maintenance of coffee plantations through the transport of water, as well as a more efficient transfer of coffee cherries. This emission-free form of transportation is characterized not only by low transaction costs, but also low-maintenance and low-investment that gives way to increasing returns.

To afford special-use coffee bikes, Rwandan coffee farmers are linked together in cooperatives—clusters—that attain their bicycles through the microfinancing initiatives of credit organizations. This provides a good governance structure, since risk is minimized by these cooperative clusters. As Buchanan writes, “the group as a whole then takes responsibility for repaying the loans of any one of its members, and no member can get another loan if the group defaults.” This establishes social capital—trust, experience and shared values—among the drivers of the coffee sector. The bikes bring in income for the farmers and the country of Rwanda, which brings it closer to establishing itself within the global network.

It is not just the coffee sector that benefits, either. Knowledge transfers within the network give way to the training of mechanics to assemble and repair bikes to not only sustain the coffee bike project, but also to create new jobs within the local market. Furthermore, the prevalence of bicycling activity creates governmental incentives to maintain roads, which spurs potential to enhance the tourism industry of Rwanda; the country can be marketed as a cycling destination, which will bring in more revenue for the country. The effects of the network comes full-circle, as popularizing cycling within the country will promote its bicycle industry and bring about the inter-firm governance that Gereffi, Humphrey and Sturgeon write about in their research on global value chain structures.

Promoting a steady cycling culture within Rwanda can also jump-start the country into the international sport of competitive cycling, which can be viewed as a strategy for persuasion since national pride begets collective action. This, in turn, can also increase awareness about Rwanda and help it rise above the ghosts of genocide. An internationally competitive Rwandan cycling team establishes an interstice, a new venue in which to empower the voice of Rwanda. In this case, the country can generate ties to enhance local resources of both the material, social, culture and symbolic kind—all of which will increase the country’s global opportunities.

Since Rwanda is a landlocked country, establishing its bicycle industry to promote economic growth may also allow for positive externalities to spread to surrounding countries. New networks of trade may be established, and the distributive impacts of this bike-based phase transition may generate a structural interconnectedness in which all key actors, even within surrounding countries, benefit from this fitness landscape change. Although this is a small step that mainly concerns rural agriculture and reliance on one crop export, it still shows that development on the local level can establish synergizing horizontal ties and potentially ground Rwanda’s economy in the larger global context.

No responses yet | Categories: Uncategorized

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.