Rwanda’s £30m Arsenal sponsorship divides opinion | World news

Anyone confused as to why Rwanda chose to spend £30m putting its name on the sleeve of Arsenal’s football shirts could begin to answer their question by looking at President Paul Kagame’s Twitter feed.

In common with many of his countrymen, Kagame is an avid fan of his “beloved club” and the president – who has been Rwanda’s head of state for almost as long as Arsène Wenger led Arsenal – has regularly offered his view on club matters over the past six years.

To critics, the deal is an example of an autocrat who runs one of the poorest countries in the world indulging a private passion while subsidising one of the richest clubs in world football.

But to Kagame’s supporters and some in the marketing industry, it’s a canny move that is already getting people thinking about the impoverished country’s tourism industry, which offers lakeside resorts and walks with mountain gorillas – with one expert estimating that the £30m investment could help to bring in £300m of new revenue.

“Rwanda wouldn’t have occurred to me as a place for tourism, so perhaps you do need to shock people,” said Kelvyn Gardner, the head of international development at the Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association. “What you’re buying with sponsorship it’s brand recognition. Football shirts can be overmonopolised by things like online gaming companies, so it will stand out.”

Kagame, a former army commander who emerged victorious at the end of the Rwandan civil war, has been president of the country since 2000. He recently changed the constitution to enable him to run for a third election, which he won with 98.8% of the vote, amid accusations of dirty tricks against those who dared to stand against him.

In that time he has attempted to transform the mountainous central African country into a prosperous nation. The capital, Kigali, is largely safe and clean, with a construction boom that includes five star hotels. Despite this there are few dissenting voices in the media, limited political opposition and it remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

Much of the development work locally has been assisted by aid from western nations, with British and Dutch politicians this weekend complaining that they are sending money to a country that is now supporting a high-profile football team.

Clare Akamanzi, the Harvard-educated chief executive of the Rwanda Development Board, defended the agreement, saying the money for sponsorship came from a different pot from international aid.

“Anyone who criticises our deal with Arsenal on account of Rwanda being poor or an aid recipient, either wishes for Rwanda to be perpetually so, or doesn’t understand that in any business marketing costs are a key component of a company’s expenditures,” she said, insisting the country is determined to double its revenue from tourism to $800m over the next six years.

Clare Akamanzi
(@cakamanzi)

For those asking if tourism promotion funds should have been used for water or electricity, let me break it down for you: Infrastructure is imported. Tourism is our #1 forex earner. The more Rwanda earns from tourism, the more we can invest in our people. That’s the connection.


May 26, 2018

That said, the deal could be as beneficial within Rwanda itself as abroad. Premier League football is ever-present in the country, with countless radio phone-ins dedicated to the Premier League. Fans crowd into bars and betting shops to watch matches while local minibuses are covered in the colours of English teams – with the north London club among the favourites.

“Many Rwandans, especially in urban areas, are fans of Arsenal,” explained Rwandan accountant Charles Sac, who is a supporter of Unai Emery’s side. “I think it’s entertainment and associated success; involvement of black players in earlier years was a factor.”

Sac said the reaction to the sponsorship deal had been positive in his country: “Rwandans were pleasantly surprised by the news and still excited.”

As part of the deal Arsenal players will visit Rwanda to hold training camps, while the country’s logo will appear at the side of the pitch at the Emirates stadium and on the backdrops for post-match interviews.

“This decision demonstrates Rwanda’s continuing reorientation from a francophone to an anglophone country,” said Timothy Longman, a professor at Boston University and author of Memory and Justice in Post-Genocide Rwanda.

“The group that dominates Rwandan politics, society, and economics today grew up mostly in refugee camps in Uganda, They brought back to Rwanda with them a connection to many things associated with Britain, including Premier League football.”

He speculated that while the decision “may be popular with the English-speaking elite in Kigali” many Rwandans could think of a better use for the money.

Regardless, at least one person will be happy. Earlier this month Kagame delivered his verdict on Arsenal’s recent performance after they were knocked out of the Europa League by Atlético Madrid.

Paul Kagame
(@PaulKagame)

My take on my beloved Club Arsenal- a very good one at the game and a very good coach like a.Wenger ,this should not have been the kind of ending of an era. The coach is leaving and club trophy-less it was long coming! I am still a committed fan going forward :). Blame the owners


May 3, 2018

He said the defeat “should not have been the kind of ending of an era” but insisted their recent lack of trophies was “long coming”.

“Blame the owners,” Kagame concluded, shortly before his country signed the sponsorship deal.



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