Standort: / Meldung: "Cycling For Hope in Congo"

Chris Cummins

Letters from a shrinking globe: around the day in 80 worlds.

3. 1. 2017 - 06:00

Cycling For Hope in Congo

There are only 11km of decently paved roads around Goma in DR Congo but that hasn't stopped a transformative cycling club from flourishing.

“I met a lot of young people who were excited about cycling”, says Charles-Guy Makongo on the phone line from the Democratic Republic of Congo, “so I thought why don’t I start a club?”

Goma boys

Goma Cycling Club

Makongo with his team

It’s a logical step for a cycling enthusiast, but one that is fairly challenging given as Makongo is based in Goma in the north-eastern corner of the country.

Firstly, there are only about 11 kilometres of roads with tarmac surfaces suitable for road-biking. Goma is in the shadow of volatile Mount Nyiragongo

Journalist Ruth Maclean, who recently spent time with the cyclists, describes blackened roads that pass the still smouldering volcano that are strewn with rocks and choked with cars, the drivers of which have very little concern for the safety of the cyclists

Hear Ruth Maclean talking about the Goma Cycling Club on Fm4 Update

Secondly, and more notably, Goma is known as one of the most conflict-ridden instable corners of the globe. Indeed, when we hear the name Goma in the news it is usually because one of the several militant groups that have haunted the region for decades have committed an atrocity.

These are worrying times in Central Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo is once again on a knife-edge after its President Joseph Kabila reneged on a promise to step down after 15 years in power; and usually when DR Congo lurches into instability, Goma bleeds.

Makongo hopes to change that with a positive social project that he began a year ago and which, he says, can help bring hope to the city. “I thought we could change people’s perceptions of Goma: the war, the poverty, the rape and so on”, says Makongo, “and at the same time help to change the riders' lives.”

A Sense Of Purpose

The cycling club gives young people in Goma a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging that can act as a bulwark against the militia groups. One of the main aims of this club, says Makongo, is that young people learn positive values through the sport.

"Rebels groups have really rampaged through the area and through Goma itself," says Maclean, and have recruited young Congolese, like the ones that are today in this cycling club, as soldiers who might rape and pillage and all the rest of it."

Goma Cycling Club

Changing Riders Lives

In Europe, cycling, so flush with money right now, may be on its way to being the "new golf" but not in DR Congo. As Ruth Maclean explains "Some of the riders are lucky if they get one or two big meals a day and coach Charles-Guy is very keen that a communal breakfast after the ride is part of training."

He says cycling is a way to channel young people’s energy and to help create a sense of sporting fairness. It is also a way to allow them to dream: “Some of them would really like to be professionals and some of them are really strong.”

More African cycling: Cycling across Uganda

The young riders of Goma Cycling Club train together several days a week and always on Saturdays. Often they make several laps of those precious few kilometres of road under the fierce tropical sun, lopping the seconds off their personal bests.

A new bike

Goma Cycling Club

New bikes are a rare treat

They ride bikes of varying quality. Makongo, who is a director at the American Bar Association in Goma, started by buying some bikes he found in Goma, second-hand bikes mainly imported from Europe. Now, on his travels, he picks up more sophisticated racing models during his travels.

Charles-Guy Makongo travels with the young riders to competitions where they stand a chance of winning prize-money. That itself is a key motivation for young athletes in a town where unemployment is rife and money is scarce.

"Some of the young men said to me that without cycling it might that one of my only options would have been to join one of these militia groups," says Maclean "because there is no other way of earning money and having enough to eat."

So, as they pedal among the busy traffic on Goma's rare roads we should all cheer on the brightly clad cyclists of the Goma Cycling Club. Many are wearing donated kits - some of it from the Vienna International Cycling Club - and many are riding donated bikes. It's an underdog story, but they are riding with a sense of style and a big smile.

“Everything is challenging but we don’t complain”, says Makongo, “We just try to improve things and be happy.”