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The Kigali Marathon: Running for Peace

The Kigali International Peace Marathon will have much to celebrate as 16 June 2019 marks the 15th edition of this fast-growing endurance sports event in Rwanda.

What is so special about the Kigali International Peace Marathon?  John Ntigengwa, permanent secretary of the Rwandan Ministry of Sports and Culture explains: “The Kigali marathon is a platform to communicate the message of peace, which is so important to all Rwandans. The event does not only reflect the rebuilding of our nation, but we also want to share the Rwandan peace experience with Africa and the rest of the world”. To demonstrate this message of peace, athletes, partners and sponsors unite on the day before the marathon to walk a 5.4km Peace Torch Relay starting at the Nyanza-Kicukiro Genocide Memorial and ending in the Amahoro Stadium.  

The Kigali Marathon’s roots are grounded in the commemoration of the Rwandan genocide of 1994. In 2004, ten years after the genocide, international women’s organization Soroptimist contacted the Rwandan Ministry of Sports and Culture, with the idea to establish a sporting event aimed at promoting peace. Together with the Rwandan Athletics Federation (RAF), they decided on an annual running event, which would eventually become the Kigali International Peace Marathon. 

Bigger and better

Fifteen years ago, endurance running was relatively new to Rwanda. In its first edition in 2005, only a couple of hundred runners took part in the race, but this has changed considerably over the years. “Running brings many people on board, not just as spectators but as participants”, says RAF technical director John Peter Ndacyayisenga. “Every year we work hard to make the event bigger and better for participants and spectators alike. In 2019, we are aiming for 10,000 participants for the combined three runs — the marathon, half marathon and the Fun Run.”

The marathon has been accredited by the IAAF since 2015, and by increasing the prize money, the Rwandan Athletics Federation hopes to attract more competitive top-runners. The route itself offers plenty of challenges, with many hills on 1600m altitude. Throughout the years, the field has been dominated by Kenyans, Ugandans and Tanzanians but lately, Rwandan athletes are making their mark, most notably Salome Nyirarukundo, who won the Kigali women’s half-marathon in 2017 and 2018.  “The Kigali Peace marathon now attracts more athletes from all over the world”, Ntigengwa says “and the role of this event is paramount to the development of athletes in our country.”

Although all eyes are on the (half) marathon, the majority of participants are likely to join the 10km Fun Run. Ndacyayisenge: “Some will run the distance to bring out the best of their sporting ability and others will just walk and chat. There is no pressure to finish. The point of the Fun Run is for people to connect and we invite everyone who has a peaceful heart to join in.” In 2017 Rwanda’s First Lady Jeannette Kagame and her Kenyan counterpart Mrs. Margaret Kenyatta joined the run to express their support to the event. “We raise awareness of the role of sports in peace building and raise the profile of Kigali as a sporting city at the same time”, says Ntigengwa, who has participated in the run every year since 2015. “For the 15th edition we hope to bring together many former and current champions, dignitaries, tourists, friends of Rwanda and Rwandans.”  Ndacyayisenge adds: “We have an opportunity to carry an important message through sports and we offer runners a unique experience. Kigali is ideal to organize an event of this scale. It is one of the cleanest and safest cities of Africa and the climate is temperate. We encourage everyone to stay a bit longer after the event, to enjoy the many beautiful sites Rwanda have to offer.”

Kids Athletics

An important side event for Ndacyayisenga is the Kids Athletics., which will take place in the stadium on the day of the event. Hundreds of children from the ages 7-12 will have the opportunity to compete in a fun day of athletics, with modern equipment and real coaches. “The kids can see all the runners hit the finish line and there will be an engaging and cheerful atmosphere in the stadium throughout the day, with entertainment and performing artists.”

Preparation tips for runners

“The Peace Marathon does not only reflect the rebuilding of our nation. We share the Rwandan peace experience with Africa and the rest of the world”

John Ntigengwa, Permanent Secretary of the Rwandan Ministry of Sports and Culture

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