World Car Free Day is celebrated annually on 22 September. Around the world, car-free days encourage people to give up their vehicles and use non-motorized transport, like biking, skating or walking, instead.
African countries such as Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda have adopted monthly car-free days, an initiative launched by their governments to encourage non-motorized transportation and fight air pollution.
Car-free days are also an opportunity to promote healthy living through collective exercises such as soccer, roller skating, street music and dancing, etc.
Different countries started this initiative for different purposes. For example, in Uganda, the car-free day has the theme, “I am the solution to pollution and traffic in my city”, and the initiative deliberately aims to advocate against the danger of over-relying on cars as major means of transport in Ugandan cities such as Kampala and Jinja. Although many parts of the city remain open to cars, once a month, on car-free day, several major arteries are closed down for cars. Overall traffic on this day is usually lower compared to the other days of the month, when congestion from motorized vehicles is commonplace.
In Ethiopia, hundreds of citizens get up at dawn to jog and cycle in the capital’s centre. It is not uncommon to see runners as early as 4 a.m. on car-free weekends. The notable increase of people joining car-free days in Addis Ababa is a sign that the initiative can be embraced by other cities as well, such as Hawassa, Adama, Jimma, Mekelle and Jigiga, if implemented more regularly.
In Rwanda, car-free day started as a monthly event in 2016 as a City of Kigali initiative, but a year later it was made fortnightly, on the recommendation of President Paul Kagame after he attended it in 2017. Twice a month, children and adults of all walks of life are usually seen in sporting gear jogging, cycling, strolling and exercising in areas in Kigali designated for the sporting event. Mo motor engines are allowed to move for at least four hours.
While not enough to solve the cities’ pollution problems, citizens see this initiative as a good starting point and a day to be enjoyed.