In 1994, cycling sport had set a firm foundation and somehow was becoming emblematic of the country, but during of the Genocide against the Tutsi, it suffered brutally.
The gruesome tragedy – that lasted for 100 days – claimed over a million lives; cyclists and, cycling administrators and fans among them.
According to Rwanda Cycling Federation (Ferwacy), at least eight members of the cycling fraternity were killed during the Genocide, including Anselme Sakumi, the former vice president of the very institution.
Others include mechanic Gasatu, cyclists Theophile Gahutu, Edouard Gasinzigwa, Kayumba, Aloys Gasana, and female riders Henriette, and Mathilde Nyirakanyana.
Today, twenty-six years later, cycling has bounced back, stronger. It stands out as one of the pillars of the local sports industry, which also reflects the transformation of the country.
Not only does cycling give a chance to young people to lead decent lives through talent and passion, but also the sport unifies and provides entertainment to Rwandans, while the riders sell the brand of Rwanda abroad.
In an interview with Times Sport, Emmanuel Murenzi, the Permanent Secretary at Ferwacy, says that Rwanda cycling’s recovery since the Genocide was a ‘slow but sure’ journey to prominence.
After 21 years as an amateur race, since its inception in 1988, Tour du Rwanda became international in 2009, gaining a 2.2 International Cyclists Union (UCI) badge.
In 2014, Valens Ndayisenga emerged as the first Rwandan to win the race since it had been accepted into the UCI Africa Tour calendar. Three more countrymen – Jean Bosco Nsengimana, Joseph Areruya and Samuel Mugisha – followed in his footsteps until last year when Tour du Rwanda got upgraded to 2.1 UCI category.
These are some of the success highlights enjoyed by the game, but all hasn’t happened overnight. After the genocide, just like many institutions, Ferwacy was struggling to gain strength, building little by little.
The federation did not have offices until 2008, Murenzi notes, despite the fact that they were preparing some regular competitions in the country.
The government among other facilitations came to the rescue of local cycling by setting up the Africa Rising Cycling Center (ARCC); giving them offices at Amahoro national stadium as well as providing them equipment.
The Musanze District-based ARCC, a facility meant for the development of young cycling talents, is one of the things that Murenzi looks at as a development that boosted the game.
“It has boosted our players, and the training they get from there allowed them to be competitive on the international stage,” Murenzi said.
The facility was officially launched in 2014 as a token of support from President Paul Kagame after witnessing the heroics by Ndayisenga in Tour du Rwanda.
Cycling today, bright future
After nearly two decades of hard work and unprecedented success at home and abroad, cycling is widely seen as the most popular sport in Rwanda and arguably the most productive.
Rwanda has been a regular top five feature among the cycling powerhouse countries in Africa, along the likes of South Africa, Eritrea, Morocco and Algeria.
In the annual Rwanda Cycling Cup races, an average of 80 riders turn up in different categories.
“The game is getting better. It is no longer looked at as a game with no gains. Now riders can earn a living from the sport and as well be able to support their families.”
Currently, Rwanda has applied to host the 2025 UCI Road World Championships.
And, should the bid be successfully won, it will be for the very first time that the world’s biggest cycling event is held in Africa.Follow https://twitter.com/NkotanyiDamas