Cycling Cities: The Dar es Salaam Experience

Nyerere and Bicycles as Post-Colonial Self-Reliance  

A Leader’s Pedal Power—President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania rides a “Swala” bicycle, epitomizing sustainable transport and self-reliance during the oil crisis of the 1970s, and showcasing a national symbol of industrious mobility and pride. The “Swala” brand, named after the Swahili word for antelope, became a national symbol, representing speed, reliability, and a connection to Tanzanian culture and pride. Courtesy Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation.

Dar es Salaam transitioned from a serene Zaramo fishing village to a metropolis on the Indian Ocean. Initially a symbol of colonial prestige under German rule, the British helped democratize cycling. After Tanzanian independence in 1961, under socialist President Julius Nyerere, bicycles gained new significance.


Nyerere, a proponent of self-reliance through his Ujamaa socialist policies, saw bicycles as more than just a means of transport—they were tools of empowerment and sustainability. He promoted the local production of bicycles, like those from the National Bicycle Company (NABICO) in the 1970s, to reduce import dependency and foster local industry. His efforts resonated with the global concept of “appropriate technology,” as advocated by economist E.F. Schumacher in his influential work, Small Is Beautiful. This concept emphasizes that simple, sustainable technologies should align with local needs and resources. Nyerere inspired many other African leaders in the early post-colonial era with his economic vision. 

Women Lead the Way—This kanga by Urafiki (Friendship) Textile Company Ltd, a Tanzanian-Chinese collaboration from the 1960s, illustrates Tanzania’s narrative of women as pivotal in development. The Swahili slogan, “Mwanamke ni chachu ya maendeleo” (“A woman is a stimulus of development”), and the design featuring a woman on a bicycle underscore the empowerment and mobility bicycles provide. Collection British Museum, London.





In the Dar es Salaam chapter of the Cycling Cities: The African Experience, Frank Edwards analyzes the strong post-colonial legacy to understand how and why bicycles have an enduring post-colonial legacy in this East Tanzanian port city despite, or even because of, many of the financial difficulties experienced by its citizens today.