Kilimanjaro Marathon: Why Kenyans are calling on the race organisers to do better

Faith Buyanzi as she races in the 2024 edition of the Kilimanjaro Marathon

Faith Buyanzi as she races in the 2024 edition of the Kilimanjaro Marathon

In May this year, Kenya’s recreational running community gathered at the KEFRI centre Muguga on the outskirts of Nairobi for a ‘healing run’ in celebration of Faith Buyanzi the ‘Queen of Elevations’ who was involved in a tragic accident in February 2024 during the Kilimanjaro Marathon held in the city of Moshi, the capital of the Kilimanjaro region in northeastern Tanzania.

An avid recreational runner, Buyanzi, 34, was hit and knocked down by a boda boda rider from behind while running the full marathon. She was reported to have suffered a head injury, multiple lower limb fractures and bruising on her arms according to a medical examination hospital report seen by The Kenyan Poet. She was evacuated by the AMREF aviation team to Nairobi where she had to undergo brain surgery at the Aga Khan Hospital.

The accident left Hon. Anthony Kiai, Chairperson of Urban Swaras Running Club “shocked and outraged”. He told The Kenyan Poet, “I didn’t expect that kind of scenario in a marathon, especially when you claim to be an international marathon.”

Mr Kiai was among the participants in the half marathon. He too “had a close shave with a boda boda

motorist on the race route.” He expressed his disappointment at the organisation and the race management, which he said had “become very popular among Kenyan runners.”

World Athletics Accreditation

In 2023, the Kilimanjaro Marathon announced a new official designation for the marathon to “THE KILIMANJARO “INTERNATIONAL” MARATHON- a title that the organisers felt “had been earned” an announcement on their website stated.

While speaking to The Kenyan Poet via email, Michael Mukunza, Communications Manager, Kilimanjaro Marathon confirmed that World Athletics accredits the race.

According to Mukunza, the accreditation came with new standards that the race is now required to abide by particularly around the safety of participants on the race routes, road closures, security, and medical support of participants.

“The race ensures that it only accommodates a specific number of runners that can comfortably fit on our routes that is why we have a cutoff point and when we reach this capacity we immediately close registration to among other things ensure we can accommodate the stipulated number considering the narrow roads in Moshi,” Mukunza said.

An estimated 10,000 participants registered this year for the three distance segments which included the Kilimanjaro premium lager 42km, 21km Tigo Half marathon and the Gee Soseji 5km fun run according to local media.

Outside of Tanzania, Kenya had the largest number of participants. An estimated 1,000 Kenyan athletes, made up mostly of recreational runners took part in this year’s edition with The Urban Swaras Club sending the biggest delegation.

With the rising popularity of the marathon which has led to an increase in entries, concerns have been growing among participants on the level of organization. This year’s 22nd edition however exposed glaring logistical challenges including the lack of adequate traffic control, medical support and toilets on the running routes.

“When you have about 15,000 runners sharing the road then that is a disaster waiting to happen and we saw that happen to several runners this year” Mr Kiai said.

The accident involving Buyanzi has been deemed by the Kenyan community of recreational runners as negligence. However, Wild Frontiers and Kilimanjaro Marathon Company, the race organisers told The Kenyan Poet they had provided all the details on their website regarding the road closures.

“Road closures are announced via media and this is done in collaboration with the Police Force that forms part of the Kilimanjaro Marathon Committee,” Mukunza stated. “The timings are well communicated to ensure Moshi residents plan their travels appropriately. Note that there is no total road closure the whole day but at specific times that have been approved by the Regional Traffic Officer.”

Annika Berlin as she crossed the 42KM finish line of the 2024 Kilimanjaro Marathon-2

Annika Berlin as she crossed the 42KM finish line of the 2024 Kilimanjaro Marathon-2

Annika Berlin, a 33-year-old environmentalist who is an avid runner and a member of the Urban Swaras club was among this year’s 42Km participants. She told The Kenyan Poet she was “forced to screech to a halt so that a tuk-tuk wouldn’t hit her” at an intersection near the 39th Kilometer because “the traffic marshal had waved the tuk-tuk through”. She then “ had to try and pick up pace.” She finished in the 5th position in the women’s category.

There race organisers have been accused by the Kenyan participants who followed Buyanzi to Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre ( KCMC), of not exercising a duty of care immediately following her accident and through the process of evacuating her to Nairobi. “ She was simply dumped. The doctors insisted that we needed to make a payment before they could start payment.”A Kenyan recreational runner who spoke to The Kenyan Poet on condition that his identity remain anonymous said.

According to Mukunza, the race’s standard procedures require that “their medical team on the ground attend to the victim for the initial first aid and if the situation is beyond control, the victim is then transferred to the neighbouring KCMC hospital, whom we have also partnered with and whose medical team are always on the ground.”

However, when asked what happens in cases where an athlete requires further medical attention, Mukunza stated “ All runners know that they are getting into the race knowing that there are eventualities that might crop up including accidents and illness. The race takes the initial steps of ensuring the participant is attended to as indicated above after this the runner takes responsibility.”

It was not just security incidents that marred this year’s race. The prize money was also riddled with controversy.

New Amendment Rules from Athletics Tanzania

The hit-and-run accident coupled with a decision by the race organisers to adopt new rules by Athletics Tanzania sparked outrage among Kenyans with many alleging gross negligence in the safety of runners and a bias towards Kenyan winners.

Days before the race, many Kenyan athletes both elite and amateur had expressed their outrage following the new amendments rules that disqualify any recreational runner who reaches the top 10 list of winners from receiving prize monies.

Lewis Kiprop, a personal athletics trainer and the admin of the Athletes News Facebook group posted a warning: “Go to The Kilimanjaro Premium Lager Marathon at (sic) you OWN RISK”

The amendments communicated a month to the race now require any athlete registering as an elite to have prior authorization from their national federation. The rules also put a limit on the number of elite athletes from foreign countries that may win the prize money to three per event per gender.

“Each foreign country will be represented by any number of Elite Athletes per event per gender. However, only 3 athletes per event per gender from one country may win prize money (ie. 3 females for Marathon and 3 females for 21 km and same distribution for Males) and the rest may be entitled to their position and time but not prize money. However, for an athlete to be eligible they must have prior authorization from their national federation clearing them of any disciplinary measure or violation of Race rules.” part of the letter from Athletics Tanzania (AT) read.

When asked by The Kenyan Poet if the new rules meant that recreational runners are no longer eligible for prize money, Mukunza responded, “The new AT guidelines require us to issue prize monies to only award three top elite participants from any foreign federation participants in each race. Foreign elite runners were also required to have written permission from their federations to ensure no athletes not allowed, took part. Many did comply with this rule, and a few were not given letters by their federations reasons not given to us”

Joseph Juma (Deejay Trafford) as he crossed the 42KM finish line of the 2024 Kilimanjaro Marathon

Joseph Juma (Deejay Trafford) as he crossed the 42KM finish line of the 2024 Kilimanjaro Marathon

Despite attaining position 5 among the female 42Km runners, Berlin told The Kenyan Poet she was denied the prize money, and was spoken to “rudely” by the organisers who said that “maybe she was doping”. Until recently, her name did not appear in the list of the top 10 winners of the race’s results page. Mr Kiai told The Kenyan Poet, he had lodged an official complaint with the race organisers on behalf of Annika on the matter.

Yusuf Salim Juma (Deejay Trafford), also a Kenyan recreational runner finished in the 9th position in the men’s category of the full marathon. He too told The Kenyan Poet he was “shoved around and taken in circles for hours by the organisers who told him he was ineligible for the prize money” and “refused to hand him his medal”. He was handed a finishers medal 2 hours later.

However, unlike Berlin and Juma, Tom Sadat, also a Kenyan recreational runner who led in the full marathon’s male over 40 category had “a very pleasant interaction at the finish line,” he told The Kenyan Poet. He was also among the finishers called to the podium. Email correspondences between him and the race organisers confirmed his win together with a commitment to wire his prize money.

 

“I would call it a village marathon”

“I would call it a village marathon,” Mr Kiai said. He describes the reaction that he together with other club officials got from the organisers when they raised the issue of safety and the ill-treatment of winners to be “at best, arrogant.”

Then on 5th March, the race organisers announced they had rescinded their decision to deny both Annika and Juma their prize money in a post published on the official Kilimanjaro Marathon Facebook page.

“The event is taking the following actions: Reinstating Ms. Berlin’s time, position, and prize money. Reinstating Joseph Juma’s time, position, and prize money.
Apologizing on behalf of the Officials for their actions. Ensuring that runners who received incorrect positions, times, and prizes due to the above mistakes will not be affected; i.e. they will receive their prizes as offered, and the amounts owed to Ms. Berlin and Mr. Juma will be paid out additionally by the event.” A section of the statement read.

Annika, Juma and Sadat were eventually paid several months later.

Mr Kiai lamented that the new guidelines were an ill-advised move by the Tanzanian sports body and the race organisers as “Kenya’s community of recreational runners sends the largest contingency to the race every year contributing immensely to the country’s transport, tourism and hospitality sectors”

Mr Kiai told The Kenyan Poet that he together with officials from other social running clubs in Kenya have since met and are “categorical that if the proper structures and safety measures are not put in place then we should boycott the Kilimanjaro marathon.”

As Buyanzi received her belated medal, a vest and a portrait at the KEFRI centre from the race organisers courtesy of Bundi and his company Trek Adventures, her smile revealed the resilience of a woman rearing to take back her crown.

For Wild Frontiers and Kilimanjaro Marathon Company, it will take more than the kind gesture of a medal, a vest and a portrait to Buyanzi to appease Kenya’s running community ahead of next year’s edition.


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