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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 August 2006, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Burkina's love affair with mobylettes
By Orla Ryan
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Gouem Abdoulaye
Gouem Abdoulaye saved for three years to buy his moped
Burkinabe's love affair with mobylettes has made one of the continent's poorest countries one of its biggest markets for bikes.

Gouem Abdoulaye is visibly proud of his mobylette.

It took the 31-year-old cook three years to save enough money to buy the 780,000 CFA franc ($1,500; 800) Yamaha, his first bike.

For the same money, he could have bought a second-hand car, he says, but like thousands of his fellow Burkinabe, a moped - called moto, motocyclette or mobylette - is the vehicle of choice.

"It is not everyone who can work to get a car, you can get a mobylette, it is expensive but it is possible," he explains, pointing how economical the two-wheelers are with petrol.

Burkina Faso is one of the continent's poorest countries, better known for its export of cotton and migrant labour than its love of bikes.

Yet its passion for mobylettes has made it one of the continent's and the world's biggest per-capita markets for these bikes.

Capital des deux roues

Moto, motocyclette or mobylette, the streets of the dusty, dry capital Ouagadougou are jammed with them, many brand new.

Why Burkinabe call their city the capital of two wheels

Burkinabe are quick to refer to their capital city as the Capital des Deux Roues, the capital of two wheels.

Stylishly-dressed women zip by on new Chinese models and moto repair and sales shops are on every street.

Kabore Ismail waits in one for his bike to be repaired.

"It is not my first, it is my third. When they get old, I want to change it, get a new one," the 30-year old mechanic says.

"When there is a new model, I like to change it, it is not that expensive," he said.

Magical attachment

The Burkinabe have always loved two wheels, be it bicycles or motorbikes, but the import of cheaper Chinese models has put them within the financial reach of more people, says Nasser Basma, chief executive of bike dealer Megamonde.

Bike riders in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
A young man of 20, in his head, there is the moto, not women
Nhami Soufiane

His firm imports and sells some 15,000 two-wheelers a year, a hefty share of the 50,000-strong annual market. The cheapest retails at about 400,000 CFA ($750; 400).

"If you go to any house in Burkina, from the biggest to the smallest, there is at least one in the house, there is a kind of magical attachment," he says.

At the heart of the attraction, however, is simple economics.

"Burkina is a very poor country, without any resources. The Burkinabe is a self-made person. Due to this, they cannot afford to buy cars, and even if they have a car, they can't afford petrol. The motorcycle is a very important alternative for transport," Mr Basma says.

Self-made man

For Megamonde and its competitors, bikes are big business.

"Per capita, Ouaga is one of the biggest markets. In Africa, Burkina is number one for motorcycles, followed by Benin, followed by Nigeria," Mr Basma says.

Car parked in front of a poster advertising types of mopeds
Two wheels are cheaper than four
The gleaming JC Bikes bikes are assembled from kits sent from China in a factory in the capital's industrial area.

Up to 85 are wheeled out every day, says Youssef Youssef, head of production.

Behind him, the company's 50 employees push half-finished bikes down the factory's assembly line.

Passion not poverty

Algerian Nhami Soufiane, who has lived in Burkina for 15 years, plans to launch Africaautomoto, the country and possibly the continent's first motorbike magazine later this year.

In some countries, he said, riding a motorbike may signal poverty, a source of shame as it reflects your inability to afford a car.

For him, the Burkinabe fascination with bikes eclipses concerns about what others think of your financial status.

"If you ride a moto in Niger or Mali, it says you are poor. In the developed world, it is a passion. In Burkina, it doesn't say you are poor... A young man of 20, in his head, there is the moto, not women - the moto, it is his first woman," he says.




SEE ALSO
Country profile: Burkina Faso
03 Nov 05 |  Country profiles
Burkina Faso's hungry herders
24 Aug 05 |  Africa

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