Rwanda: Meet Ruth Rigoga, the Trailblazing Female Sports Journalists Defying Odds

26 January 2021

If you are following the ongoing African Nations Championship (CHAN) tournament currently taking place in Cameroon, you have seen a familiar face of a jolly and dynamic female journalist reporting directly from the central African country on Rwanda Television (RTV).

Ruth Rigoga has over the years excelled in a field that is mainly a preserve for men -sports journalism and nothing will make her back down. Not even naysayers.

Last week she was the subject of social media banter after a picture of Eric Ngendahimana, a player on the national team emerged, showing him wearing mismatching numbers -24 on the shorts and 25 on the shirt.

After the national team gaffe, a photo of Rigoga wearing jersey number 24 emerged and her photo was juxtaposed to that of Ngendahimana, as though to suggest that she is the one who took the shirt, leaving the national team to improvise.

The ever-smiling Rigoga was not bothered by the social media drama and she went on with her work, relaying tournament news directly from Cameroon on RTV as well as through her social media platforms.

"I didn't lose sleep over that situation. I thought people were actually joking about it because anybody can buy the national team jersey in many shops around town. I also bought my jerseys from different shops," Rigoga told The New Times.

Her storytelling skills and detailed analysis have endeared her to many sports lovers and she's ranked among the best sports journalists in Rwanda.

The mother of one is actually married but can be mistaken for a girl given her sporty nature and 'tomboy' style. Chances are when you bump into her, she will be wearing shorts and push-ins.

Despite appearing smiling and determined to do her work, Rigoga says she has had to endure a lot of negativity, including people who discourage her or want to under look at her work because she is a woman.

Love for sports, becoming a Journalist

Rigoga's love for sports dates way back as a child. She did not just love sports, she also tried her hand on many games, especially football, which she played at the national level and actually indirectly led her into journalism.

"It is a long story but my whole life has been about sports. I tried playing very many games as I grew up, more especially football. I studied high school on scholarship because of playing football," Rigoga recalls.

Upon completing high school, she was playing for the female team of AS Kigali and they happened to win the national championship. Upon winning the title, AS Kigali organised celebrations where veteran Journalist Solange Ayanone was invited.

"While at the event, Solange Ayanone in her speech asked who scored the best results in the national exams after S.6 and I happened to be the one. She said the best performing among us will be given an opportunity to work on Isango Star."

"That is how I ended up in sports journalism, that was in July 2010. I started off doing a talk show dubbed 'Women in Sports' on Isango Star, which was presented by female sports journalists," she recalls.

At the time, she juggled radio with studies as she was pursuing a degree in journalism at University of Rwanda (UR). In 2012, she was poached by the all-new 98.7 KFM, radio station which was owned by Nation Media Group (NMG), but it would later terminate operations in June 2016.

She was immediately hired by the Gishushu-based Radio & TV 10, where she worked alongside other prominent sports journalists like Titty Thierry Kayishema, Jean Luc Imfurayacu, David Bayingana and Jean de Dieu Bagirishya (Jado Castar), among others.

Despite working in a male-dominated environment, Rigoga continued to stand out in the talk show 10 Sports, which was one of the most popular sports shows in Rwanda, if not the most popular.

In 2019, there was fury on social media after it emerged that Rigoga and her co-presenter Kayishema had been fired from Radio and TV 10 after they appeared on the shortlist of journalists who had applied for jobs in Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA) after job openings were advertised.

Luckily, the duo got the jobs and joined the public broadcaster in June 2019 on a full-time basis. The two, who have since developed into the dynamic duo, present two different talk shows, 'RTV Sports and Kick Off, which are among the most watched.

Defying odds

Much as she has had a meteoric rise in a world dominated by men, Rigoga says that it has not been easy at all, as she has had to defy many odds, including society stereotypes, negative comments and juggling motherhood and work.

"It hasn't been a smooth journey as it may seem. I have encountered many stumbling blocks along the way, especially people telling me things that demotivate me, including some workmates but I have also had other people pushing me and encouraged me to keep going, such as Justin Mugabo, the owner of Isango Star," she told The New Times.

"He has always been there for me and continues to encourage me. I would say things are no longer as difficult as they were when I started out because I have been able to establish myself in the sports world," she adds.

The other challenge she faced was that unlike her male counterparts, she would not be able to get information faster because she did not have personal connections with sources or they simply wouldn't trust her with information as fast as they do with male sports journalists.

As of now, she has been able to cultivate her sources and build her base, defying odds and proving that girls and women too have a place in the male-dominated sports world.

"All I can tell young girls out there who want to follow in my footsteps is that being a sports journalist is not unique to a certain gender but before you dive in, you have to make sure you are passionate about sports,"

"Also be ready to learn on the job, take criticism positively and stay alert and informed because to be a good sports journalist or presenter, you need to always stay ahead of the pack in terms of being informed and updated on what is going on," Rigoga says.

CHAN experience

The sports journalist says that being entrusted to cover CHAN, which was initially supposed to take place last year but was postponed to this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, was a huge responsibility for her and showed that she is trusted to do the job.

"It is a lot of work but naturally I love to work and do whatever I want to do well. We were given a good reception here but it is a humid country but all is well," she said from Cameroon.

The national team Amavubi will play its 3rd group game today Tuesday against Togo -- a must-win game if they are to progress to the quarter-finals.

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