Francine Niyonsaba: Tough girl for tough victory

It is possible for a girl to be tough and achieve a tough victory. This story covers the inspiring life and achievements of Francine Niyonsaba, a Burundian famous athlete. She has built her unique and inspiring brand through athletics and positioned herself for a better future. In her, most Burundians found pride.

Francine Niyonsaba, 28, is a great athlete. She was born on 5th May 1993 at Kayongozi, Bweru commune, Ruyigi province in a broke family.
“I was born in a poor family that could hardly fulfill my needs. Never have I been a beggar or given in for atrocious actions”, says Francine Niyonsaba, adding that she has always been positive since her childhood.

Her athletic background

Francine Niyonsaba started her sport’s journey when she was in grade seven.
“I was very kind, brilliant and skilled in sport.” she said. At school, a class without Niyonsaba was dull.

She was excellent at running and started representing her school in some athletic tournaments. Ms. Niyonsaba was about to finish high school when she got an opportunity to study in Bujumbura, the current economic Capital of Burundi.
Francine Niyonsaba strongly believed that she could wend her way across Bujumbura city to compete with other champion pupils from different provinces.
“I was such an ambitious girl (Inshirwarimenetse),” she also said.

She worked hard and relentlessly as she envisioned to be a strong contender. Some school teachers coached her and helped her dart across athletics.
Ms. Niyonsaba was heartedly committed to sport despite some discouraging words.
“As I trained myself at weekends at home, my lovely mother and neighbors mocked me. They thought I was wasting time. But I did not give up. I kept building on my talent”, she desperately said.
She was self-confident and tough-minded. All she needed was to nurture her talent and match it with appropriate skills and training.

Fortunately, she traveled to Bujumbura for the first time for an interschool competition in 2009. She won it and was awarded a package of soaps, pens, and loincloths. It was really an amazing day. She was 14 years old when her mother started celebrating her emerging achievements.
Afterwards, she got admitted to Vugizo boarding school based in Bujumbura city in 2011. Since then, Bujumbura has become her hometown.

Her winning competition journey started in the 2012 African championship in athletics that was held in Porto-Novo, Benin. She won a silver medal as she was outperformed by Caster Semenya, a South African female athlete in 800 meters. However, this continental narrow win helped her rise to a quick international prominence.

Besides, Francine Niyonsaba waved a Burundian flag at the 2016 Olympic games in Rio, Brazil. From there, she won her first Olympic medal, a silver in the women’s 800 meters after the South African Caster Semenya. It was an impressive victory that was celebrated by many Burundians.

The most significant and remarkable winning year is 2021. Francine Niyonsaba won the Continental Tour Gold Meeting on the 14th of September in Zagreb, Croatia. She set a historic time of 5:21:56 in 2000 meters. She broke a world record that was until then held by the Ethiopian female athlete Genzebe Dibaba.
Earlier in the same month, Francine Niyonsaba won the Diamond League in 5000 meters in Zurich, Switzerland on the 9th of September.
The two wins came after she and Caster Semenya were banned by the World Athletics in 2019 from competing in events from 400 to 1600 meters as they are said to have hyperandrogenism. It was a bitter pill to swallow for the two athletes.

People’s feedback over Niyonsaba’s victory

Considering the Burundian cultural beliefs, it was difficult for some Burundians to expect and foretell a victory from a female athlete.

After her outstanding performance, most Burundians got astonished and others were super excited owing to her extraordinary achievements. The Burundians’ happiness was expressed on the 22nd of September on her triumphant return organized by the Burundian government. Different people including high authorities of the country expressed their excitement and satisfaction over her achievements.

Some Opportunities

Sport has opened many opportunities for her apart from being a therapy.
“I have been connected to the right people and some big organizations such as NIKE Company in the USA. International trips are no longer a big problem,” Niyonsaba said.

Besides, her name is emerging throughout the world. The discovery of her own realities led her to standing out at the international stage as a prominent female athlete. Overall, she is creating a positive image of Burundi, her home country.

Some challenges

Many challenges stood in her way but she did not give up.
“Some discouraging messages choked my heart but I did not give up. I stayed strong,” the champion athlete said.
Some people perceived disabilities in her as a female but she saw abilities within herself. They predicted weaknesses in her but she showed them strengths. They criticized her and she proved them wrong.

“There is a potential in every human being to win regardless of their gender dimensions,” she also said.
Also, she lacked some financial support to the extent that she thought of quitting athletics.

Despite hyperandrogenism, Francine kept walking head high. She trained to compete in 2000 meters and over. It was still a hard nut to crack until she tried.

“I know people are talking behind my back, but it will not stop me. I did not choose to be born like this. Who am I then? God created me so. I love who I am. I will always be Francine Niyonsaba and I do not intend to change,” she proudly said.

There have been actually many challenges that would have shattered her dreams but she has never surrendered.

What should young Burundians, especially girls, learn from her?

Girls can perform even better than boys. They have to discover their talents, develop their uniqueness and demonstrate their abilities.
“Until you spread your wings, you will have no idea how far you can fly,” said Alice Kivuvu, Kenyan sportswoman.

All girls cannot be champions in athletics but they ought to dream big and be open-minded. Besides, they have to carve out their own careers and work hard enough to generate good results.
They do not have to be impeded by stereotypical and prejudicial limitations or external noises. It is strongly believed that women can take the lead and build their names positively as well as men can do.

The government should harness sports and encourage women so they can reach further and keep promoting Burundi.

Girls can hardly pursue and achieve their dreams without support and guidance from their parents. Hence, the latter should spend their efforts to support their daughters’ dreams from childhood according to their own talents.