1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Tour du Rwanda: Probe underway into sexual abuse claims

Alex Ngarambe
March 5, 2024

Rwanda's Investigations Bureau says anyone implicated in sexual misconduct will be prosecuted. The country has been fighting endemic sexual abuse against women for years.

About a dozen competitors at Tour du Rwanda on bicycles
The alleged sex scadal at the Tour du Rwanda is the latest controversy to hit professional cyclingImage: DW/A.O'Donnell

The Rwandan Investigations Bureau (RIB) has launched an official probe into the sexual misconduct allegations at the Tour du Rwanda, one of Africa's most prominent international cycling events.

The RIB said it is taking the recently surfaced claims of sexual abuse and exploitation of young women working during the prestigious cycling event seriously.

However, rumors of alleged abuses taking place during the race had persisted for years without anyone coming forward as a whistle-blower to file any official report. Rwandan authorities hope this finally might change now.

Judoka Marie Dinkel: 'I thought I couldn't speak up'

Victims 'must come forward'

The young women behind the allegations of sexual mistreatment mainly fulfilled protocol duties for the cycling event.

Marie Louise Uwizeyimana, the Executive Secretary of Women Media Owners for Change, an association dedicated to fighting sexual harassment in the media industry and beyond with the stated goal of eliminating sexual abuse, says the RIB must critically approach the allegations surrounding the Tour du Rwanda.

"There is no smoke without fire, and that's the duty of the investigative bureau: to get to the bottom of such issues. They just can't sit back," she told DW, adding that the RIB's proactive interest in probing the claims showed that the issue was important.

But Uwizeyimana also expressed concern that some victims could inadvertently thwart the investigation by not gathering up the courage to testify.

"It will be very difficult because adducing evidence of such crimes is not easy. Demanding sexual favors is a relatively new concept in our society, and young girls may not be aware that it is a crime," she said, highlighting that the victims' genuine lack of understanding of their own rights is a considerable hurdle.

Conflicting messages 

Gano Ruhunga, the Executive Secretary of Rwanda Investigations Bureau, is confident that the probe's findings will shed light on the truth, telling journalists that any identified suspect would have to face prosecution should the investigations implicate individual organizers of the Tour du Rwanda.

"We've heard about the said sexual abuses and exploitation of the girls, but while some are mere allegations, there are those that are tangible," he said. "When we hear such allegations, we take interest and investigate, and when we find them to be credible accusations, we follow them up."

Cameroon: A network of 'aunts' helps rape survivors

Lillian Kayirebwa, second vice-president of the Rwanda Cycling Federation, disputes the allegations of sexual misconduct.

She told DW that there were no cases of sexual abuse or of soliciting sexual favors from women hired during the tournament, adding that the body is not part of "any investigation by RIB."However, If the claims prove truer, Kayirebwa's job could be on the line. In 2019, the then-president of the Rwanda Cycling Federation had to resign following allegations of corruption and sexual abuse incidents made against the organization.

Rwanda's image in the world

Rwanda, meanwhile, wants to boost its tourism sector amid a series of public image crises.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame standing behind a lectern
Rwanda's opposition believes that the country is isolating itself under Kagame's leadershipImage: Estácio Valoi/DW

Between President Paul Kagame's reputation for an authoritarian style of leadership, political troubles along its border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the ongoing controversy over the prospect of accepting asylum seekers from the United Kingdom, a potential sex scandal at the Tour du Rwanda could serve as yet another publicity failure.

Following the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the country took serious steps to enshrine everyone's rights in law, at least on paper. 

This includes a zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse in all its forms — especially against women and girls.

However, in recent years the country has recorded a major surge in sexual harassment cases, especially around high-profile public events such as the Miss Rwanda beauty pageant; last year, some of the organizers were arrested, prosecuted, and found guilty of sexual abuse, while the founder of the pageant competition fled the country to evade capture.

Sentences for sexual abuse can differ greatly in Rwanda, with rape in aggravated cases coming with a punishment of 10 years to life imprisonment.

The 'blesser' culture: Sex for luxury bags in South Africa?

Edited by: Sertan Sanderson