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Abused Champion: “How My Cycling Dream Was Shattered”

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Bertin Mukarukundo was born in 1998 in remote hills of Nyamiyaga sector in Gicumbi district.

She has four siblings.

This energetic and joyful lady is not shy and looks you straight in the eyes when engaging her in any conversation.

She is basically optimistic about her future. Taarifa caught up with her recently for an exclusive chat.

For both Primary and Secondary education, Mukarukundo studied in schools at Nyamiyaga sector part of 21 sectors that make up this steep-hills district in the Northern Province.

She was in form two in college when she saw a poster pinned at the Sector public notice board calling upon girls to join cycling.

Like many youngsters in this district, she had learnt how to ride a bicycle and this pushed her into deciding to join.

“Around April 2016, I and other girls assembled at Nyamiyaga sector for screening. A competition was organised, we had to ride local bicycles and I emerged the best. Three of us were selected,” she remembers, adding that the competition was very tough.

She told Taarifa that the top three of them were later transferred to Kigali where they would found a new cycling team named Inyemera.

“We were accommodated in a residential house in Remera and its where more other girls joined us, selected from other districts,” Mukarukundo said adding that she was very excited about the new life of being trained into a professional cyclist.

However, as days flipped by, Mukarukundo noticed there was something wrong with the accommodation arrangement.

In the house, there was a male team coach, Straton Nzabazumutima, and another male, a moto-taxi operator not connected to cycling.

The girls started undergoing very tough training sessions, but this time with sports bikes.

They would be granted a one week leave to visit their families and recuperate.

Mukarukundo would travel back to Gicumbi and link up again with her friends and family.

Umurenge Kagame Cup 2019: Bertine Mukarukundo gets cash prize and bicycle after emerging winner using 55 minutes.

Everything seemed to be going on well and the girls were quickly gaining excellent cycling skills and adapting to new life in Kigali that is very different from upcountry settings. “But Team Coach Nzabazumutima started making indecent jokes about me, for example telling other girls in the house that he was attracted to me,” Mukarukundo said.

“One day we had gone back to our respective homes for a week-long leave but Nzabazumutima called me back days before the end of the leave. He told me to report urgently and immediately. I boarded a bus back to Kigali,” she explains.

While back at the Remera based house, Nzabazumutima had a one-on-one chat with Mukarukundo and poured out his heart saying he could not hold back his feelings for her.

“I was very surprised and always thought he was joking. I told him that it was not possible to engage in intimate affairs with him,” Mukarukundo narrates, taking short breaks as though being swayed away by deep anger and pain. She then recollects and speaks up again.

“Why am I telling you all this,” Mukarukundo interjects during the conversation, “OK let me tell you everything. After Nzabazumutima told me all that, he started touching me and it was a very long fight. He pulled me to his bedroom and forced me into sex.”

At this point of our conversation, tears rolled down her cheeks as she extended her hand to wipe them off.

Mukarukundo told Taarifa that after the incidence, Nzabazumutima promised he would get her into cycling competitions out of the country including other things like buying her a new bicycle.

“I felt so disappointed and scared. I feared to tell my teammates when they returned to the house a day after, but I continued to do all training and competitions. I was best performer in my team,” she says.

“After three months it’s when I realised that I was not getting into monthly menstruation cycle. I realised I was pregnant but continued cycling and training harder without anybody knowing my situation,” says Mukarukundo.

However, Mukarukundo could not manage to tame nature with a six-month pregnancy; “I decided to meet Munyenkaka Ancile, the team patron. I opened up to her about what happened to me and informed her I was going back home to my village in Gicumbi.”

In her narration, Mukarukundo remembers that after she opened up, Munyenkaka called for an urgent meeting the following day and the matter was discussed.

“It is from that meeting that the team coach Nzabazumutima admitted what he had done to me and put everything in writing.”

“I agree to take full responsibility and I’m ready to provide all necessary support to that girl that got pregnant from my house,” Nzabazumutima said in part of the letter signed February 20, 2017.

This is an authentic letter handwritten by the coach which Taarifa has obtained from a trusted source.

Immediately, Mukarukundo was handed the letter and travelled to her village in Nyamiyaga sector.

While at home, Nzabazumutima called Mukarukundo’s mother and pleaded with her never to report to police or any authorities.

“He sent my mother Rwf10,000 via mobile money transfer,” she says.

On April 14, 2017, she gave birth to a baby girl at Byumba Hospital.

“My baby was very well at birth, I started breast feeding her then later doctors took her away from me saying she was crying a lot. I would go to where she was and feed her. However, two days later the doctors came to me and told me the baby had died,” Mukarukundo recounts with excruciating pain.

Mukarukundo’s mother was also at the hospital. She helped taking her daughter and body of granddaughter back home.

“When I gave birth, I informed our cycling team management and when my baby died, I also informed them but there was no form of support or help. I was just ignored and buried my baby.”

According to Mukarukundo, she doesn’t understand why doctors at the hospital did not give any document showing what caused the death of the baby.

“The death of my baby was mysterious and the hospital did not provide a postmortem and never provided any letter explaining the cause of death,” she adds.

Meanwhile, since she left Kigali, her coach has never met or talked to her. “Even after knowing about the death of the baby, Straton has never talked to me nor bothered to find out how I am surviving. This is how my dream was shuttered.”

During Taarifa’s deep investigation into Rwanda Cycling Federation (Ferwacy), it was discovered that Richard Mutabazi, a Deputy Director of Africa Rising Cycling Centre, on May 16, 2017, wrote to the Federation’s top management, bringing to their attention the matter.

“One of the coaches, Straton misbehaved vis-à-vis our girl riders…we have developed a policy that will protect athletes from any sort of sexual abuse at the same time protecting the coaches and staff from being wrongly indicted for such an improper conduct..,” reads part of the communique.

This is an email that was sent to management with an attachment of minutes upon which the Federation’s leadership was supposed to act against the accused coach. Taarifa was able to confirm it’s authenticity.

However, this proposed policy was never designed nor implemented.

What Taarifa saw was a proposed athletes’ protection policy from other agencies without any relationship with Rwanda.

“The federation and my cycling team ignored me when I went through all this challenge caused by my own coach. I informed my Patron Munyenkaka about all my challenges but she ignored me. After all these challenges, I managed to meet Munyenkaka but she insulted me so much,” Mukarukundo says when she recently returned to Kigali.

Mukarukundo told Taarifa that team coach Nzabazumutima was later arrested and detained, but was released two weeks after. The federation President  Aimable Bayingana instead rewarded Nzabazumitima by appointing him as coach to another cycling club instead of being fired and banned from cycling.

Caption: Bertin Mukarukundo rides during criterium of Rubavu on 6 August 2016 (photo by FERWACY Flickr)

“I don’t know why everything has been happening mysteriously and unfair to me. I thought I would get justice but I have failed. I want my dignity back and be able to return to sport.”

Rwanda Forensic Detectives Exhume Body Over Disputed Paternity

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Rwanda Police Chief Briefs 240 Officers Ahead Of S. Sudan Deployment

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The Inspector General of Police (IGP) Dan Munyuza, on Tuesday, March 9, briefed 240 police officers set to be deployed for peacekeeping duties under the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

The pre-deployment briefing of the hybrid Formed Police Unit-One (FPU-1) contingent was held at the Rwanda National Police (RNP) General Headquarters in Kacyiru.

The contingent commanded by Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) Faustin Kalimba, will replaced the same number in Malakal, Upper Nile State where they will be largely charged with protection of civilians in internally displaced camps, UN personnel, security of key installations and humanitarian assistance, among others.

IGP Munyuza urged the officers to use their experience and the high level of training acquired to execute their peacekeeping mandate effectively.

He further reminded them that they will work with other peacekeepers from different countries and they will have to exercise respect of diversity.

“Learning will be continuous throughout your tour-of-duty, use your experience to build on what your predecessors achieved, cooperative with other peacekeepers in the mission area and respect the people under your protection as well as their culture,” IGP Munyuza emphasized.

He urged them to keep up the good conduct and protect the image set by previous contingents adding that ” you are representing your country, be at the best of your performance.”

“Your country and Rwanda National Police in particular, have full trust in you, resilience and sacrifice are key. Remember, your conduct and professionalism will depict the image and values of Rwandans, ensure your performance is exceptionally good and maintain the same spirit to the end of your mission,” said IGP Munyuza.

The Police Chief reminded them that Rwandan peacekeepers are defined by their professionalism, discipline, teamwork, integrity, values and alertness, and urged them to keep the momentum to “maintain and protect the image and reputation.”

He emphasized that respecting each other and their superiors in particular, discipline, hard work, teamwork, dignity and respect for diversity are strong guiding values and principles which will help them towards mission excellence.

IGP Munyuza appealed to the officers to maintain the spirit of supporting others and to engage in human security activities with the local people they are mandated to serve.

‘’Participating in human security activities is our culture as Rwandans, you should not only conduct peacekeeping duties just to maintain peace and security. It goes beyond that as our tradition to work towards the overall wellbeing of the people,” IGP Munyuza said.

As the wolrd is still faced with the pandemic of COVID-19, the Police Chief reminded them to always observe all health guidelines including wearing face masks, avoiding shaking hands, washing hands and practicing social distancing, among others.

This will be the sixth rotation of FPU-1 hybrid since the first one was deployed in South Sudan in 2015.

It is also one of the three Rwandan FPU contingents currently deployed in South Sudan.

Currently, RNP maintains over 1000 police peacekeepers in various UN missions, including six contingents serving in UNMISS and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).

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Chinese Companies Win Tender to Construct Railway From Mwanza to Isaka 

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The Standard Gauge Railway from Mwanza to Isaka in neighbouring Tanzania will be constructed by two Chinese Companies that have won a lucrative tender for this job.

Prof. Palamagamba Kabudi Tanzania’s foreign minister said on Thursday during a presser on the eve of the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’s two-day visit to Tanzania.

The Mwanza-Isaka railway stretch will cover a distance of 341 kilometres and construction is estimated to cost TShs3 trillion will be handled by China Civil Engineering Construction (CCEC) and China Railway Construction Company (CRCC).

The Tanzanian government through the Tanzania Railway Corporation (TRC) is constructing a 2,561Km SGR network that links Dar es Salaam, Mwanza, Kigoma, Katavi and neighboring countries of Rwanda, Burundi Uganda and DRC.

The over Sh7 trillion project is being implemented in phases with the first round covering 202km between Dar es Salaam and Morogoro, was initially scheduled to be ready by November 2020 but heavy rains disrupted construction works.

Construction of the first and the second phase is being undertaken by Turkish construction company, Yapi Markez.

The first phase will have six main stations at Dar es Salaam, Pugu, Soga, Ruvu, Ngerengere and Morogoro, with the Dar es Salaam and Morogoro stations being the largest.

The second phase which is under implementation involves 422km between Morogoro and Makutupora in Singida with the project set to be completed within 36 months at a cost of $1,924 billion.

The railway is East Africa’s fastest and will use electricity to move trains will travel at 160km per hour and transport 10,000 tonnes of freight which is equivalent to 500 cargo trucks.

Upon completion, the SGR project is expected to payback the investment value after 15 years.

In October 2020, Tanzania government signed $60 million (about Sh138 billion) contract with a South Korean firm to supply trains for the standard gauge railway (SGR).

 

The Citizen

 

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Trump Attacks Election Integrity As Biden Nears 270 Electoral College Votes

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President Donald Trump is testing how far he can go in using the trappings of presidential power to undermine confidence in this week’s election against Joe Biden, as the Democrat contender gained ground in tight contests in some key battleground states.

With his pathway to re-election appearing to shrink, Trump has advanced unsupported accusations of voter fraud to falsely argue that his rival was trying to seize power. Thursday’s moves amounted to an extraordinary effort by a sitting American president to sow doubt about the democratic process.

“This is a case when they are trying to steal an election, they are trying to rig an election,” Trump said from the podium of the White House briefing room.

The president’s remarks deepened a sense of anxiety in the U.S. as Americans enter their third full day after the election without knowing who would serve as president for the next four years.

His statements also prompted a rebuke from some Republicans, particularly those looking to steer the party in a different direction in a post-Trump era.

Electoral college magic number

Neither candidate has reached the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House. But Biden eclipsed Trump in Wisconsin and Michigan, two crucial Midwestern battleground states, and has been inching closer to overtaking the president in Pennsylvania and Georgia, where votes are still being counted. It remains unclear when a national winner will be declared after a long, bitter campaign dominated by the coronavirus and its effects on Americans and the national economy.

On Wednesday, The U.S.set another record for daily confirmed cases as several states posted all-time highs. The pandemic has killed more than 233,000 people in the United States.

Rising tensions

Biden spent Thursday trying to ease tensions and project a more traditional image of presidential leadership. After participating in a coronavirus briefing, he declared that “each ballot must be counted.”

“I ask everyone to stay calm. The process is working,” Biden said. “It is the will of the voters. No one, not anyone else who chooses the president of the United States of America.”

 

Biden’s victories in the upper Midwest put him in a strong position, but Trump showed no sign of giving up. It could take several more days for the vote count to conclude and a clear winner to emerge. With millions of ballots yet to be tabulated, Biden already had received more than 73 million votes, the most in history.

Trump’s erroneous claims about the integrity of the election challenged Republicans now faced with the choice of whether to break with a president who, though his grip on his office grew tenuous, commanded sky-high approval ratings from rank-and-file members of the GOP.

Lawsuits and late mail-in ballots

Trump’s campaign engaged in a flurry of legal activity to try to improve the Republican president’s chances, requesting a recount in Wisconsin and filing lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia. Judges in Georgia and Michigan quickly dismissed Trump campaign lawsuits there on Thursday.

Trump has held a small edge in Georgia, though Biden has been gaining on him as votes continue to be counted. The same is true in Pennsylvania, where Trump’s lead had slipped to about 22,000 votes — and the race is destined to get tighter.

One reason is because elections officials were not allowed to process mail-in ballots until Election Day under state law. It’s a form of voting that has skewed heavily in Biden’s favour after Trump spent months claiming without proof that voting by mail would lead to widespread voter fraud.

Mail ballots from across the state were overwhelmingly breaking in Biden’s direction. A final vote total may not be clear for days because the use of mail-in ballots, which take more time to process, has surged as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Trump campaign said it was confident the president would ultimately pull out a victory in Arizona, where votes were also still being counted, including in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous area.

The AP has declared Biden the winner in Arizona and said Thursday that it was monitoring the vote count as it proceeded.

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