Rwanda has defended its £30 million Arsenal sponsorship deal that will see the top-flight English club’s players spot ‘Visit Rwanda’ on their shirt sleeves for the next three years.
Kigali says the money is part of its marketing budget and was sourced from funds earned from tourism.
The deal, which was announced last week, has attracted criticism mainly from the UK and The Netherlands.
Critics question why Rwanda, a donor-dependent country and one still grappling with high levels of poverty, would spend such a huge sum of money.
In an article titled “Shirt of shame” in the British newspaper Daily Mail, the writer accuses the UK government of giving £62 million in foreign aid to Rwanda each year, only for half the amount to be used by President Paul Kagame, an ardent Arsenal fan, to sponsor “his favourite club”.
The paper quotes Mr Ian Birrel, a known President Kagame critic, who said the deal makes a mockery of British fair play, as well as a lawmaker, Mr Andrew Bridgen, who described the sponsorship as “an own goal of foreign aid”.
Legislators in the UK and The Netherlands have demanded that their respective governments revisit their development support to Rwanda.
But the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the agency that oversees the tourism industry, has rebuffed the criticism saying the deal is part of its marketing drive to grow tourism numbers and revenues.
“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,” Ms Clare Akamanzi, the RDB chief executive said in a tweet.
“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,” she added.
“Our national goal is to double tourism revenues to $800m by 2024, from $404 million currently. This won’t happen by sitting and waiting, but by being proactive, and marketing Rwanda as a tourist destination in innovative ways. Now – Relax and let the world Visit Rwanda,” she added defiantly.