Editorial: Criticism of Rwanda-Arsenal partnership misplaced but not exactly unexpected

Rwanda Development Board and Arsenal Football Club last week announced a partnership deal under which the London club will promote Rwanda as a top destination and help develop the country’s football over the next three years. 

The deal was a coup for Rwanda in every sense.

Besides getting their first-ever sleeve sponsors through this agreement, Arsenal are associating themselves with one of the greatest success stories in recorded history, helping to further transform a country that has bounced back from the brink of total destruction to become a beacon of hope in just two decades.

The move was largely praised by Rwandans, the tourism industry, PR and marketing experts and observers.

When Rwanda rolled out Vision 2020 nearly twenty years ago, it set out to position itself as services, MICE and tourism hub as well as a knowledge-based economy. But to achieve this, the Government needed to make or inspire strategic investments to put in place critical building blocks.

There was need for high-end hospitality facilities, new tourism products, preservation and restocking of our national parks, superior customer service, etc.

Today, these investments have paid off, with Rwanda now ranked among Africa’s top three international meetings and events destinations, at least according to International Congress and Convention Association.

Tourism is now the country’s number one foreign exchange earner, fetching US$404 million last year. And the country wants to double its tourism receipts by 2024.

But this did not come easy. It took bold decisions and brave investments – over the years – that were sometimes vehemently opposed by the country’s partners. For instance, when the Government took the decision to construct the present-day Kigali Serena Hotels – before it was handed over to the private sector – some of the country’s development partners opposed the move, reckoning that no one would come to stay in a five-star hotel room in Rwanda!

Later, once the hotel was in place, it soon became clear that the country actually needed more world-class hospitality facilities to meet rising demand. The Government had been vindicated.

The Arsenal partnership should be looked at in the same context. Like RDB explained, this is part of the country’s marketing strategy.

The impact will mainly be long-term and it will help make Rwanda economically self-sufficient.

It is, therefore, absurd to see some stoop too low to question the ‘Visit Rwanda’ effort. Critics have even pointed to the fact that Rwanda still receives aid and that its one of the poorest countries in the world.

They forget, or ignore the fact that tourism receipts, first and foremost, directly impact the lives of the communities around these attractions through the revenue sharing scheme.  

They forget that this country has come this far thanks to such strategic decisions. It is because of thinking and acting bold that the wellbeing of Rwandans has significantly improved in the last two decades and will continue to improve. And it’s because of such pragmatism that Rwanda will achieve its Vision 2020.

Like those who were opposed to the move to actively promote the country’s hospitality industry, those questioning the Rwanda-Arsenal partnership today will swallow their words when the benefits start to be felt.

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