With the first World Championships taking place on African soil in just three years’ time, Rwanda is taking a look at the current state of its cycling program. B&B FM Umwezi asked our CEO, Kimberly Coats, for her expert view on why Rwanda’s UCI Africa Tour ranking, racing results, and the number of riders present in world cycling seem to have declined in recent years. B&B FM Umwezi also asked her to address questions from Rwandan cycling fans raised during earlier interviews by FERWACY and why its once very promising national cycling program is in decline.
Many thanks to the journalists and staff who interviewed Ms. Coats, translated, and produced this hard-hitting interview.
Jado Castar (Bagirishya J. de Dieu): Chairman B&B FM Umwezi.
Imfurayacu J. Luc : Chief Operation Officer of B&B FM Umwezi.
Iradukunda Yvonne: Journalist at B&B FM Umwezi.
Umutoni Grace (question sounds): Journalist at B&B FM Umwezi.
Muhoza Aimé Moise: Cycling Lover and Volunteer at B&B FM Umwezi.
Below is a clip of the interview, which is for the Rwandan audience and has been translated into Kinyarwanda. Following are the responses given by Team Africa Rising CEO Kimberly Coats in English.
Here is a link to the full African Cycling Assessment in reference to the data stated in the responses. This document was compiled by our team from UCI data available on the UCI website.
- What is the cause of misunderstanding between TAR and FERWACY?
Thank you for this interview. We appreciate your commitment to fair and impartial journalism and to share this information with your listeners.
So I am the CEO of the non-profit organization Team Africa Rising, which was formerly known as Project Rwanda and then Team Rwanda Cycling. Our mission is simple. We are completely focused on cycling development across Africa and very proud of our heritage in Rwanda.
When we began in Rwanda in 2007, President Kagame was instrumental in paving the way for us to build and empower the Rwandan Cycling Federation. Our early supporter was the late Joe Ritchey who helped launch the Rwanda Development Board. Mr. Ritchey worked directly with President Kagame and advocated for our role in developing cycling in your country.
When we left Rwanda at the end of our ten-year period in 2017, we wanted nothing more than to see Rwanda Cycling continue to grow and thrive. By then, Rwanda had risen to the top levels of African cycling, with male and female riders competing at the World Championships, the Olympics, at the World Tour and Pro Continental levels, the highest league of professional cycling.
So in 2017, Team Africa Rising began the 5-year transition plan with FERWACY. It is outlined in our Memo of Understanding December 12, 2017. We shared all of our know-how, our historical financial reports and budgets with MINISPOC and FERWACY, so they were informed and clearly understood the level of budgets needed to now continue running the Rwandan national cycling team to the same level as we had run it. It was clear at all times at this point that we would not be the primary source of financing, or equipment from that moment five years ago.
We slowly transitioned the existing financial inventory over to FERWACY, thus eliminating our involvement in any payments or financial transactions for day-to-day operations on a quarterly, step-down basis, ensuring FERWACY was ready to take over all the operations of Team Rwanda.
We believed we had left competent and trustworthy people in charge of running the national cycling program, and with Felix Sempoma in place as team coach, as one of the most knowledgeable Rwandans on cycling, Rwanda would continue its wonderful rise in African cycling.
The reason I am giving you this history is for your listeners to truly understand where things began to decline and to give you the answer to your question about misunderstandings with FERWACY.
Let me be clear that the current President, Abdallah Murenzi, inherited a program in disarray due to the previous Executive Committee resigning in December 2019. The challenges with FERWACY and the operation of Team Rwanda began long before Mr. Murenzi took the helm. Perhaps, this is why it is difficult for us to understand Mr. Murenzi’s unjust anger towards Team Africa Rising, as we have only ever wanted him and the new Federation to succeed. He might be looking the wrong way at who is responsible for what he inherited.
It is very important for your listeners to understand that Team Africa Rising must operate under the laws and regulations of the US Internal Revenue System. Our nonprofit status in the US is closely monitored and we must file yearly tax returns, yearly audited financials and must make all these financial documents open to the public, which we do. Every single dollar which has ever gone into Team Africa Rising is documented and audited as to where it goes and on what it is spent. We have had no irregularities in our financials at any point in our history.
In our interactions with FERWACY from 2017 – 2019 and since then with the current Executive Committee, we have found it very difficult to work with them, and be able to follow the strict transparency and accountability guidelines with which we are controlled by the US Internal Revenue System.
FERWACY has never complied with any of our requests for program planning or financial accountability, even though we diligently provided all the historical information and templates in order to do this. FERWACY, under both Executive Committees, former and current, just continued to ask for money, equipment, supplies with no plan in place to justify or monitor the investment.
As CEO of Team Africa Rising, it is my job to keep the company in good standing with the US government and to maintain our Gold Seal with Guidestar, and I simply could not comply with these requests as there was no mechanism in place to ensure there would be no misuse of the funds or equipment, or worse, the funds not even getting to where they are meant to go. We have always firmly believed in H.E. President Kagame’s stance on anti-corruption and follow the same principles.
2. Why does FERWACY consider you as a threat to cycling in Rwanda while you had a big impact in past?
I can only speculate on that as there is simply no threat from our side. We just have a focus on cycling performance and rider improvement in Rwanda, and across Africa.
We believe President Abdallah Murenzi, started from a place of good faith after the scandal of the previous regime. He publically stated he wantied to get the program back on track and to develop cycling ahead of your most important race, the 2025 UCI Road Cycling World Championships. We could not have been more supportive of all of this. We shared all of these comments and statements across all of our social media channels and had great hope.
As I said earlier, it is important to remember he inherited a bad situation so President Murenzi needed help to get the ship back on course. We offered any guidance or advice we could possibly give. Our founder, Jock Boyer, ex Technical Director of Team Rwanda spoke with him many times at that point. President Murenzi said he would provide a plan and a budget for TAR’s consideration and we looked forward to helping in any way we could.
But that plan and budget never came. For the next three years we asked for them, and they never came. We continued to offer our expertise, for free, and it was either ignored, rejected or not followed. Worryingly, at that time, we also started to notice negative and defensive responses to our discussions. We were getting worried about a real drop in performance of several of the national team, the flow of riders to Continental and Pro Continental teams was slowing, race results were failing, the flow of medals at events like the African Continental Championships was slowing to a trickle. We were very worried. Every time we raised this concern directly with President Murenzi or any of the FERWACY senior officials, we were met with increasing hostility and anger. This only got more and more severe and there is only so long you offer a hand if that had is slapped, or worse spat on by the other person. It has always been a source of constant sorrow for me and for Jock Boyer but we felt we had to withdraw from being proactive around Rwandan cycling, and focus on our other projects.
We now believe with complete conviction, that the reason for the constant negativity directed towards us by FERWACY either personally by its leaders, through disguised accounts or close friends on social media, is that we have become the leading independent promotional voice of African professional cycling, and we talk about results. Sport is all about results. And the truth of the matter is simply that, since 2018, Rwanda’s results in cycling have been falling. And worryingly fast. The rate of decline is unprecedented, and our biggest sadness is that there seems to be no real hope of arresting this decline, let alone improving Rwandan cycling. At this moment, we sadly believe no Rwanda rider is technically capable of finishing the Kigali 2025 World Championships race. This would be a huge embarrassment for the host country, and it is entirely due to how the Rwandan national cycling programme is currently managed. There is no other possible excuse or reason.
This sad conclusion is based on extensive research of Rwanda’s national and individual rider rankings in the ‘UCI Africa Tour’ – the top league of cycling. I have shared given you all the data and will make it available on our website. We conducted this assessment on all of Africa, not just Rwanda. We wanted to know who was succeeding, who was stagnant and which countries were in decline.
Since 2018, Rwandan cycling has sadly consistently been in decline. Eritrea and South Africa have emerged as clear leaders with Algeria and Morocco rounding out the top four. Rwanda has only ever had one World Tour Rider, Adrien Niyonshuti who retired in 2018. Rwanda has now not had any Pro Continental Riders since the end of the 2019 season when Joseph Areruya was released by Delko. For the last two consecutive years, Rwanda has only qualified one U23 rider for the World Championships. From 2014 – 2020, Rwanda qualified with three U23 riders each year.
The only thing Team Africa Rising can surmise at this time regarding being a “threat” is that we tell the truth about the state of Rwandan Cycling and President Murenzi and his Executive Committee do not want to hear the truth. We conclude that it is also not in their personal interest for Rwandan cycling fans, and the sport media, to also see this information. The deflection of trying to create some kind of feud with us, is simply nonsense. We no longer support the Rwandan cycling federation as we have no faith in them. We will always try and support Rwanda cyclists, no matter what.
3. How was your partnership with Benignite and how did it end?
Team Africa Rising developed a relationship with a personal donor who partnered with another friend to fund Rwanda’s first UCI Continental team, run at that time by Felix Sempoma. It was an exciting time as one of our aims was to get a Rwandan team to this level, as we knew, through our contacts in global cycling, we could get this team invitations to some high-level races, which would both improve the riders, the continued heightened global awareness of Rwandan cycling, and be great for their sponsor.
TAR facilitated the $50,000 donation and sent it to Benediction Ignite. The money was strictly budgeted for various items for the team, from equipment to salaries to races. This was in 2020 when, unfortunately, as we all experienced, everything shut down due to COVID. The sponsor still honored their $50,000 commitment, although they did not receive much publicity for Ignite, the company they work with.
In 2021, Jock and I approached the donors and asked them to recommit to the same $50,000 sponsorship. They did. However, they only gave $25,000 upfront, with another $25,000 to be sent based on a review performance and accountability metrics from Benediction Ignite.
The difficulties began when Felix Sempoma, who we had heavily promoted to the Ignite donors after winning Coach of the Year in Rwanda, left to become coach of the National Cycling Team.
This was a big surprise to us, and he did not discuss it with Team Africa Rising before making the move, which then seriously jeopardized the second payment with the donor as the team at Ignite were invested in Felix as the leader of the team, but Felix was no longer coaching the team. We were obliged to notify the donors of this fundamental change in the running of the Benediction team.
Shortly after the Tour of Rwanda in 2021, Benoit Munyakindi, who was now coaching Benediction Ignite, asked me for disbursement of the funding. Each month Benoit would send me an expense report which I would then share with the donors so they were comfortable with their investment in the team, and this would be paid to him.
At that time, he sent me a “pro forma” invoice which I paid in full even though it wasn’t an official invoice. We then found out the items on the pro forma invoice were never purchased. TAR received a call from the owner of The Bike Shop Kigali, Sean Belfast, and Sean told us he was asked by Benoit to create an invoice for parts he never then purchased.
That is fraud, and I immediately addressed it with Benoit and Felix. We then discovered there were also funds due to Steven Laget from Cycle Sport in France, who had purchased bicycle parts for use at the Tour of Rwanda. I immediately paid him directly, and Benoit became irate.
At this point, with the loss of Felix Sempoma, who had always operated professionally and with integrity, and the misrepresentation of expenses, we had no option but to notify the donors, who decided to not pay the second $25,000. This was a real shame but the responsibility for this lies entirely with those mentioned.
4. We heard you use Rwanda and FERWACY names in your fundraising and only a very small portion is given to Ferwacy in return, is it true?
This is not a correct statement at all. The Ride for Rwanda, which was a fundraiser founded by Doug Grant in 2007, was what kept Team Rwanda Cycling going forward in the early years. It was the majority of the funding for the team. Doug visited Rwanda on several occasions, and the ARCC Education is named for his late wife, Sandy. There is a deep connection to Rwanda with Doug, and Doug was always involved in discussions of where the money should go. He wanted a portion to go to the Team and an additional portion to Qhubeka or World Bicycle Relief. In 2012, not only did the event pay for the team expenses but also paid for a container of Qhubeka bicycles to Rwamagana in celebration of Adrien Niyonshuti and his team, Team MTN Qhubeka.
Unfortunately, due to the excessive duties with getting additional Qhubeka bicycle containers into Rwanda, Team Rwanda Cycling and Doug Grant and the Ride for Rwanda put two containers of Qhubeka bicycles into Eritrea. The woman who led that project was Rwandan Christine Umutoni, who was the head of the UNDP organization in Asmara during those years. Doug was adamant that bikes go to school children and farmers, and because we continued to have issues with taxes, some of the money from the fundraiser went to programs in Eritrea and South Africa.
To be transparent, Team Rwanda Cycling was formed in June of 2011 after splitting off from our parent organization, Project Rwanda. In April of 2014, Team Rwanda Cycling changed its name to Team Africa Rising because of our increasing level of work with other African countries. Because what we had achieved in Rwanda had become such a model for cycling development, other countries were asking for assistance. None of the money raised from the Ride for Rwanda went to these other nations. These funds came from grants and other sources. In fact, since 2014, the salaries of TAR’s CEO and Executive Director have been paid via a grant, not the Ride for Rwanda.
At the end of 2019, Doug Grant decided it would be his last year. Team Africa Rising, by that point, had dealt with the fallout from the sexual abuse with Coach Stratton, FERWACY continuing to employ him, his eventual arrest, and the resignation of Aimable Bayingana and the Executive Committee. We decided to entirely rebrand the ‘Ride for Rwanda’ event. The ride was actually canceled in 2020 due to COVID. It returned on 23 October 2021 as the ‘Good Dirt Ride’ and will be held on October 15, 2022, with the same name and focus. If you look on our website or any of our social media accounts, we don’t represent ourselves as raising funds for FERWACY anywhere, so we are unclear why they would state this untruth.
5. Is it true you requested FERWACY to dismiss Sempoma on his coaching role?
No, not at any time. To the contrary, Felix Sempoma is the most qualified cycling coach in the country. In 2021, Team Africa Rising discussed with Felix the conflict of interest we saw existing with his Team Benediction Ignite responsibilities and taking on the role of the National Team Coach. In soccer, for example, you could never have a coach of a club be the coach of the national team. We let him know that if he left Benediction Ignite, it may very well entirely jeopardize his sponsorship arrangement with Ignite. We were just clear with him about the consequences of his decision.
There has, in fact, been talk about FERWACY hiring a foreign coach with experience, which, if asked, we would say we don’t believe this would be in the best interest of Rwandan Cycling.
But cycling coaching has also moved on in recent years, and we have seen no evidence of Felix attending any development training at the UCI or similar bodies to improve his knowledge and skills. As the national team coach, he and FERWACY take 100% responsibility for the performance of the rider and team.
One area that has seen huge development and should have been embraced by Rwandan cycling is the world of virtual training and racing platforms. For example, Jean Hubert from the Adrien Niyonshuti Cycling Academy is now the most experienced and knowledgeable person not only in Rwanda but on the African continent in this new technology and other technology such as CGMs and Whoops. We encouraged Hubert and Felix to meet and collaborate on many occasions, and this has never happened or led to any developments. We have seen teams in Uganda, Kenya, Benin, and others really succeed on this platform, and the lack of a Rwandan national program is a real shame. Anyone truly committed to cycling development would be 100% focused on these platforms. Having seen FERWACY recently waste time and resources on having the police raid one of these online cycling events rather than embrace this and learn from it can only lead to the conclusion they are not truly committed to Rwandan cycling development. There cannot be any other conclusion.
6. What projects are you currently busy with?
Since handing over national team development to FERWACY, and alongside our work with several other countries, Team Africa Rising has continued to support Rwandan cycling initiatives at the club level. We have provided bicycles, tires, and tubes to Benediction Cycling Club, clothing gear, tires and tubes to Rafiki Bikes, and training supplies to Adrien Niyonshuti Cycling Academy. TAR also supported Bugesera Cycling Club with gear and bicycles and paid for the duties on their trainers supplied by Israel Premier Tech.
Team Africa Rising’s broadest focus since 2020 and the COVID shutdown has been in the virtual technology arena. TAR has distributed over 70 smart trainers in Africa. They are operating in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Togo, Algeria, and Benin.
TAR brought Hubert and Adrien to assist with the virtual training setup in Benin. Adrien stayed with me for an extra week to work as the Directeur Sportif for the National Cycling Team of Benin at the May Tour of Benin. In May, TAR brought Adrien and Hubert to the US to establish a relationship with a new sponsor and to receive additional training from Wahoo SYSTM and Training Peaks. ANCA is now completely funded via new personal relationships with donors in the US. TAR simply made the introduction, and Hubert and Adrien cultivated the relationships. In fact, one of their new donors is visiting ANCA this week. He also collaborates with the government of Rwanda and Partners in Health and is an avid cyclist!
Rwanda is fortunate to have Jean Hubert from ANCA, who is incredibly intelligent and leading the development in this arena. His work is evident by the success of Eric Muhoza, currently racing the Tour de l’Avenir, and Samuel Niyonkuru, who is also racing with Rouler pour le Rwanda in France. TAR gave Benediction Cycling five smart trainers and Zwift memberships, and Didier Munyaneza worked with Hubert to learn how to test, train, and race on the virtual platform. Bugesera Cycling Team also benefitted from Hubert’s expertise by having Hubert set up their systems and train their trainer to operate. Now the women are taking full advantage of the training programs. FERWACY already has the best trainer in the business, that is why it is so baffling that FERWACY continues to attempt to halt Hubert’s efforts when all he wants to do is develop cyclists for his country. The beauty of Hubert is his enthusiasm, knowledge, and 100% commitment to the young cyclists of Rwanda.
I believe all of these projects and all we achieved in our ten years of governance of Rwandan national cycling prove our intentions and motivations. We are 100% focused on working with anyone who wants to develop cycling in Rwanda and across Africa. We are 100% transparent in our finances and communications. We are a non-profit in all senses. We don’t take profit from any of our fundraisings, just take the joy in seeing and sharing the results and achievements of the riders and teams across Africa. It is with dismay and sadness that we conclude by saying that, quite simply, Rwanda and Rwandan riders are not featuring in these celebrations anywhere near the volume as we saw in the past.