On May 23, the Rwanda Development Board announced that Rwanda had inked a three-year sponsorship deal with Arsenal FC to promote tourism and sports in the country. Arsenal is among the giants of British football and does not only have a fervent following in the country but also across the globe.

But while many are optimistic that the Visit Rwanda-Arsenal deal is going to be successful in meeting its objectives, still there are others who are not enthusiastic about it, particularly the amount of money involved.

The deal has attracted mixed reactions both locally and internationally. De Telegraaf, the biggest newspaper in The Netherlands, published a story quoting politicians that included members of parliament urging their country to revisit financial aid to Rwanda as a punishment for the deal.

The Dutch newspaper quoted members of the Christian Union – a Christian democratic political party in The Netherlands, criticizing Rwanda as ‘poor’ to be able to sign the deal with Arsenal.

MP Joël Voordewind was quoted as saying he is outraged “that a country which we provide solid financial assistance has now spent as much as 34 million Euros on shirt sponsorship.”

More international scathing criticism of the shirt deal was reported in The Telegraph, with Jonathan Liew, the papers Chief Sports Editor, saying Rwanda’s “deal with Arsenal (is) yet another example of dubious regimes banking on the moral apathy poisoning football.”

But in a typical western journalists’ writing about Africa, Liew said most “fans were taken aback by the news – but only because the badge on the sleeve looked ugly” before delving into a biased political rambling that absolutely had nothing to do with the deal.

Back in Rwanda, RDB Chief Executive Officer, Clare Akamanzi, responded to the critics of the deal, saying that “the Rwanda Development Board generates revenues from the sale of tourism products, from which it uses a portion to market its products for further growth. The Arsenal deal falls within this arrangement, just like our tourism exhibitions, sales consultancies.”

Akamanzi was also reported in a section of the press as saying that “anyone who criticizes 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.”

The New Times reported that Sunny Ntayombya, the Head of Communications and Marketing at RDB, said during an interview with the paper that the deal whose worth remains undisclosed is set to deliver long-term in terms of investment and tourism more than the actual cost of investment.

Ntayombya said that this deal will enable Visit Rwanda to showcase the best of Rwanda around the world over the next three years as well as promote local football.

Greg Bakunzi, the managing director of Amahoro Tours welcomed the deal, saying marketing the country shouldn’t be a cheap undertaking, and any fair deal RDB deems fit should be aggressively taken.

“We need to market our country and its attractive destinations to promote tourism. The ‘Visit Rwanda’ logo is going to be seen by millions of TV viewers around the world, and this is a good marketing strategy when we want to reach a global audience,” said Bakunzi.

Bakunzi said tourism is the country’s biggest foreign exchange earner and should be aggressively marketed so that the country can benefit more from it and reach its tourism targets.

Available statistics show that Rwanda has doubled tourism revenues from $200m in 2010 to $404m in 2016, though the latest figures are yet to be consolidated.

A marketer who sought anonymity because he didn’t want to be seen as criticising the “government” deal said even though tourism needs to be promoted, the reported colossal amount of money on the deal should have been used in developing the country’s national parks and the balance to be used in infrastructure development.

“We should prioritize industrial and infrastructural development and this Arsenal deal with Rwanda doesn’t fall under any level of priority. Tourism can be marketed through other cheaper channels but not this expensively,” he added.

Jean Pierre Hakizimana, an Arsenal fan, said even though he supports the club, he doesn’t see how this deal is going to benefit the common man like him, adding that, instead, any money available should be used in creating employment opportunities for the jobless.

Arsenal, like many other top teams in Europe – such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool – enjoys massive support in Rwanda

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