Visitors to Goma, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo cannot miss the distinct Tshukudu, a famous two-legged wooden scooter. It is a common and cheap mode of transporting goods to and from markets or to homesteads across the city.
Patrick Toubissa, 45, who has operated a Tshukudu for the past five years, says the wooden scooter enables him to feed his family and see his five children through school. “This is a decent way of earning a living instead of criminal enterprise,” said Toubissa.
Although it is associated with low income earners who work tirelessly to bring food and other supplies to the market, the riders love their Tshukudu and would not give them up.
Tshukudu is a two-wheeled wooden handmade cart, whose wheels are rubber wrapped with handlebars and a pad on which the operator can rest one knee while propelling the vehicle with their other leg while on flat ground.
On a slope, the rider can stand on the deck like a kick-scooter. It is basically a wooden cycle with no pedals, propelled by the power of one leg. You could use either leg depending on your orientation.
Undisputed travel king
In Goma, Tshukudu is the backbone of the local transportation system.
Emmanuel Ngando, says he uses the Tshukudu because it does not require fuel, and uses physical human energy. The Tshukudu cost $100 to make, and are made of Mumba and Eucalyptus wood, with scrap tyres serving as wheel treads. It takes one to three days to build and they last two to three years. They are therefore the kings of transport in North Kivu province.
Tshukudu first appeared in the 1970s, during the difficult economic times of Mobutu Sese Seko. The operators earn between $20 and $67 per day, depending on their workload. With its popularity increasing, a new Tshukudu costs upwards of $150 is parts of North Kivu.
The heaviest Tshukudu can carry is an 800kg payload. Heavy potato sacks are ferried down the hilly terrain of Nyiragongo district into Goma, but the the Tshukudistes (riders) must push back uphill to pick more deliveries. It is a hard energy-sapping job.
Compared with what its counterpart in Kenya and Tanzania, the well-built Mkokoteni that use old tyres conveying the balanced carrier attached to it, the Tshukudu is quite rudimentary.
In March 2013, the UN Volunteer in Congo and UN Stabilisation Mission in the DR Congo (Monusco) organised a Tshukudu Race through the streets of Goma, attracting 110 people from Goma and foreigners participating in the event that also raised funds for charity.
It was not merely a token to honour the Tshukudistes (riders) for their vital role in the city’s socio-economic development, but also an opportunity to raise awareness about volunteering and solidarity.
In 2014, Jean-Pierre Kabibi, an entrepreneur organised 60 Tshukudu riders into a co-operative. The initiative has grown to about 1,500 members. Similarly, in 2009, the then boss of Serena Hotel, Goma, Vanny Bishweka, commissioned an installation of a Tshukudu rider in the city centre to honour its significance to the city’s economy.