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Rwanda: Educating motorbike entrepreneurs

Training gives taxi-moto drivers good start on road to self-improvement.

For those who are persistent, the “piki piki” life can bring a reliable income — about as good as one can hope for without a secondary school degree.

Damas Habimana, a moto driver for the past five years, says on a good day he brings in the equivalent of $15 after fuel costs — not bad in a country where the United Nations estimates 90 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day.

Living in Kigali, Habimana’s expenses are much higher than drivers’ in the countryside, yet he’s saved enough to put himself partway through secondary school and make a down payment on a house.

Like most moto drivers, Habimana, 27, says he doesn’t plan to ride his bike forever. Eventually, he hopes to become a commercial driver, where he can earn a higher salary, and work fewer hours than his current 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. regimen. It’s the type of career move Nteziyaremye says his federation encourages — both for professional development and to allow space for new drivers to enter the workforce.

Some motorists, including Habimana, say moto supply is growing faster than demand, which threatens the incomes of existing drivers.

“Nowadays, motorists are too many,” said Habimana. “It wasn’t like this before. It used to be easy to drive around and find customers, but now I rely more on clients who know me and will call me to drive them.”

Despite this outlook, Mimoni says he’s confident he’ll find plenty of clients in Musambira, a town where bicycle taxis — nowhere to be found in Kigali — remain the dominant form of transportation.

His teacher, Betty Maniraguha, is also optimistic. Though Rwanda has made great strides in women’s rights and even has a female majority in parliament, the country has just three female taxi-moto drivers. But Maniraguha is confident there will soon be more.

“I know how to ride a moto,” she said during a break in her lecture on driving laws, delivered to Mimoni and seven other young men.

“Soon, I plan to become a driver too.”