A short interview with John Bosco Balongo, creator of the Great African Cycling Safari and BAM Ambassador! In Africa.
What’s GACS? A ride, a trip, an event or an experience?
The Great Africa Cycling Safari (GACS) showcases the East African Community (WAC) in all its multiplicity and reflects the cultural diversity of the people living in the East Africa region. It not a race, it’s an adventure, it’s fun, its meeting, it’s an experience, it’s a more than just a ride, yes it’s an event, it’s a dance on the wheels.
Through our interactive program, Standard, Method and values, participants travel around the three key concepts: SOLIDARITY, MEETINGS and NATURE.
Where does the idea of creating the longest cycling event in the world come from?
The fact that we ride through 5 EAC countries over a period of 55 days, it automatically is the longest.
What is the purpose of the GACS? Just sports or is there more? The “Safari” represents the fact that on two wheels, we take the EAC Integration process from offices to the people at the grassroots. The tour promotes environmental conservation and sustainability by planting of trees to tackle challenges of climate change. The tour interacts with various East African Communities in the 55 days it runs.
The GACS three thematic pillars present GACS as:
• GACS AS A MESSENGER FOR EAC INTEGRATION BENEFITS.
• GACS AS A CYCLING CHALLENGE AND ADVENTURE TOURISM.
• GACS as a way to highlight issues, like climate change)
What are the main difficulties of organizing such an event in EAC?
1. The number one difficult is funding. Cycling has been for long under looked, its been not take as a serious sport and so very few people would want to associate with it. It’s not easy to attract big sponsorship. Cycling has not been seen as an impactful kind of venture.
2. The participants them, are people who cannot afford so much, so it becomes very difficult to have a more preferable event. What we are doing is we are attaching Value to the bicycle, how can we use a bicycle to change the world, how do make an impact using a bicycle.
How much importance and role do local populations play in the GACS?
The Great Africa Cycling Safari has relied on the local community to 80 percent. Like I mentioned, we started in 2016, we did not have even a coin to start. In fact we set off with $180 and were going for a 55 days tour. But the people of East Africa support the tour to the last bit, food, water, spares, medical support safety etc. Thanks to the EAC communities.
Who is the cyclist who should participate in the GACS? It takes a lot of preparation or just have time to be on the saddle calmly?
Anyone can take part, like we said, it’s not a race. Both children and adults can choose the ride they want with GACS. Normally a selected number of rider go for the full tour and many join for stage ride, both female and par riders have participated in our rides.
What kind of bike do you suggest to use in an adventure like this? We recommend off road bike. Adventure bike or mountain bike if you are going to join for the full tour ride. But any bicycle for shorter distance riders for as long as they are comfortable
Cycling, travel, sustainability… how does the GACS combine these three words?
Cycling as a mode of transport is a low-cost, health-improving way to travel and offers environmental benefits for the cities that promote it.
We are using a bicycle to explore the NON-TRADITION TOURISM DESTINATIONS in East Africa.
What will happen after 2022? After the 2022 Tour?
Every year the tour becomes bigger and bigger. After this year’s event or tour, GACS will have grown bigger and will be well established. In terms of sustainability, we are still struggling but yes we are on track.
Our partnership with BAM, is the beginning of everything and hope for the best collaboration.
John Bosco will be at BAM! Saturday 11 June, an excellent opportunity to learn more about GACS from the voice of those who created it!