Kenyan youth embrace cycling to promote green transport

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In Kenya, Ellam Maina's passion for cycling has withstood disapproval from peers and relatives who often associate the practice to downtrodden individuals who cannot afford motorized transport.

The 23-year-old environmentalist developed a love for bicycles at a tender age and has currently mobilized hundreds of youth in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi to create awareness on the benefits of cycling.

Speaking to Xinhua on Saturday during a cycling event organized by conservation lobbies to mark World Earth Day, Maina stated that Kenyan youth have revolutionized public transport to make it greener and efficient.

"I have never regretted the decision to adopt cycling as a means of transport. Besides its contribution to reducing carbon emissions, cycling benefits the body, mind and spirit," Maina told Xinhua.

He was among young environmentalists who cycled for 65 kilometers on Saturday to create awareness on green transport in Nairobi and adjacent counties.

Maina has utilized social media platforms to promote cycling and sustainability themes among his peers in Kenya and beyond.

He said he has saved a lot money since becoming a long distance cyclist in December last year.

"It takes me 30 minutes to cycle from my neighborhood to the city center. Cycling has saved me from torturous traffic jams, it is therapeutic and cost effective," said Maina.

Kenyan conservation groups have involved the youth to promote sustainable practices like cycling, waste management and reforestation.

"Participation of youth is critical as Kenya charts the post 2015 development framework that roots for greener and inclusive growth. We need to mobilize young actors to strengthen action on climate change," remarked Mithika Mwenda, the Coordinator of the Nairobi based Pan Africa Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA).

Both local and global conservation lobbies are behind efforts to promote green transport in Kenya.

The cycling event on Saturday was supported by PACJA and a host of indigenous conservation groups to raise awareness on the post 2015 development agenda.

Mithika said that the 3rd Edition of Earth Race aimed to sensitize the public on the benefits of cycling.

"We are also lobbying the government to develop policies that promote cycling in urban areas. State agencies have heeded the call to develop infrastructure that support cycling to decongest cities, reduce emissions and promote human health," Mithika told Xinhua.

Hundreds of cyclists who turned up for the Earth Race defied a scorching sun and rugged terrain to cruise 65 miles and raise awareness on the need for communities to embrace sustainable practices.

Nancy Akinyi, a 24-year-old college student was undeterred in her quest to finish the race and earn a place in history. Akinyi took up cycling as a hobby since her childhood days and has won numerous awards in national tournaments.

"We must demystify cycling and create a movement that promotes this practice in the wider society. The use of bicycle transport by a critical mass of the population will save our environment from harmful gases and promote health of every citizen," Akinyi remarked.

She is a member of a youth conservation group that has been promoting the use of cleaner fuels and waste recycling in Nairobi slums.

Green transportation is yet to gain a strong foothold in Kenya due to policy and infrastructural hiccups as well as societal attitudes.

The CEO, Green Africa Foundation, Isaac Kalua stressed that Kenya has no option but to incorporate cycling in transport policies in order to catalyze a low carbon transition.

"The government should develop structural facilities to promote cycling. Policies must be in place while advocacy should be scaled up to change people's attitudes," said Kalua.

Green Africa Foundation has partnered with the UNHABITAT to implement a pilot project on urban cycling in Nairobi.

Kalua revealed that his foundation has developed a bicycle packing rack in an affluent Nairobi suburb. Cultural attitudes have slowed down the uptake of cycling in Nairobi and other big towns.

Kalua regretted that most Kenyans associate cycling with poverty yet its benefits are legion.

"We need a paradigm shift and make our people understand that honor is not derived from what you drive. In some countries, prime ministers and cabinet members cycle to work," Kalua said.

He emphasized that political good will is crucial to promote cycling in Kenyan cities and towns. "If senior leaders were seen cycling for a few minutes, the impacts would be profound," said Kalua.

Kenyan youth have not back tracked from their decision to adopt bicycles as a mode of transport.

Wildlife Africa Director Robert Reriani told Xinhua that cycling has gained traction among the youth thanks to the realization of its environmental, health and economic benefits.

"Cycling is not just a fad; it is a healthy lifestyle that has clear benefits to our environment. It saves money and improve health," said Reriani.

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