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Cycling for Peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo

By Adam Marsal

Imagine that you live in a country agonised by war lasting for more than 20 recent years. Imagine road cycling in a country with only 11 kilometres of tarmac. Welcome to the Democratic Republic of Congo – home of genocide, crimes against humanity, rape and sexual violence, tribe clashes, war atrocities, and Goma Cycling Club.

Considering the struggle with horrible road conditions and fighting with frantic drivers, one would say that a cyclist from the Democratic Republic of Congo has no chance to survive even a day of riding. But the reality is far from that. With incredible amount of enthusiasm, Lycra-clad members of the only existing cycling club of the capital city Goma get on their bikes for a regular training, regardless of the fact that some of them have to skip their breakfast regularly.

While we may ponder which of the lightweight components would suit our carbon-fibre super jets better, those guys have a different kind of concerns. Most of the members come from very poor families, and sometimes they struggle to make money for food. But that doesn’t turn them off dreaming of saving some funds to buy better bikes, which would enable them to take part in serious competitions abroad, for example in neighbouring Rwanda. Spending most of their trainings in extremely harsh conditions and using poor bikes would give them a significant chance to beat their more pampered competitors if they were equipped with slightly better racing machines. Until then, many of them must settle for their worn single-speed clunkers.

Town of Goma beneath the active volcano. (profimedia.cz)

Since they’ve started to train almost on a daily basis, they became pretty strong. Dodging motorbike taxis, scooters and vans, the avid cyclists are stared at by people standing along the road in amazement. Their eyes hypnotise the surface of the road in front of them because there’s always risk of hitting one of the thousands potholes big enough to swallow a pregnant lion. After each ride, they spend some time in a local cafe with their trainer to discuss their progress in the sport.

In the region marked by endless violence, the coach believes that young men should focus on something more positive. In order to help them achieve their goals, he supports them as much as possible. There’s always a way to import second-hand helmets, frames or parts from abroad. The lack of job opportunities and loss of faith is exactly what drives young people to join some of the many armed groups. If nothing else, cycling serves as a perfect peacemaker for those guys. But who knows – maybe we will soon see them attacking contenders at the big tours!