The custom, auto-rickshaw scene in Sudan
In a short space of time, cheap, Asian imports have transformed many aspects of life for Africans: mobile phones are now within reach of the relatively poor, opening up communication in what has always been an oral culture that values the spoken word over the written one; Chinese motorbikes have created jobs for two-wheeled taxi drivers and increased access for individuals in more remote places that you might have had to wait a week to find enough passengers for a car. Particularly now that the Chinese have laid vast lengths of new roads, it has allowed India to get in on the act by introducing the auto rickshaw, a far cheaper alternative to the conventional taxi, both to purchase and to run.
Its only really in the last five years that they have taken off in Sudan, the entire fleet of vehicles being manufactured by Bajaj, which is what they are referred to in neighbouring Ethiopia but in Sudan they are known simply by the indian term rickshaws. In the northern town of Dongola they seem to have taken them to heart and owners lavish great care individualizing their rides. With the incessant influx of desert dust, cleaning and polishing them is no mean feat.
A whole array of accessories, chrome fittings and stickers are used to personalise the rickshaws and must amount to a reasonable investment, given that even 50 cents will get a solitary Sudanese passenger all the way across a town like Dongola. Quite why the town has created such a scene is anyone’s guess but having seen a couple of customised bicycles as well there is obviously something in the blood of the typical Dongolan.
Certain forms of artistic expression may be frowned upon in Islam but there is definitely nothing in the Qur’an about adding some serious bling to your tuk tuk.
It is clearly early days for the scene but no doubt the future will bring more impressive and even outlandish creations.