By Denis Jjuuko
Rwanda carried out a bloodless coup when it announced its partnership with Arsenal, one of the most popular soccer clubs in the world. This partnership will see the club promoting Rwanda tourism for three years. It is a coup because Visit Rwanda is the first brand ever to be used on the sleeves of a major club in the popular English Premier League.
However, before the ink even dries, some people have started criticizing Rwanda for spending 30 million pounds over three years for this deal (the Rwanda Development Board CEO Claire Akamanzi claims the figure is much less and she can’t reveal the figure due to contractual obligations with Arsenal). Let us put this figure in United States Dollars for ease of reference. At today’s rates, that is USD39.9 million. The argument by those opposed to the Visit Rwanda campaign is that it is a lot of money that would have been spent on infrastructure, and some other things including ridiculously ensuring Rwandans get themselves out of poverty. I say it is ridiculous because the Visit Rwanda campaign is exactly about that. I will explain later.
Some journalists in England are even claiming this is their aid. I find it pretentious that anybody from England would oppose an English team earning money and say nothing when African strongmen are depositing the same aid money with Swiss banks. At least one can say, if it is aid money from Britain, it has been given back to them that way. They should not complain but then I digress.
Rwanda issues out 96-gorilla permits a day each sold at USD1500. Let me be conservative and base my calculations on 80 permits a day. That comes to USD120,000 per a day. If Rwanda sells these permits for 365 days, that would be USD43.8m. Let us assume that they may not sell all the 80 permits every day and take an average of just 300 days a year, that would be USD36m. Rwanda gets USD400m a year from tourism, its biggest foreign exchange earner. With their visibility extremely enhanced by its being emblazoned on Arsenal’s left sleeve, there is much more to get. And Visit Rwanda isn’t about gorillas alone. Actually over 35 million people are exposed to the Arsenal shirt every single day. Of those, 10m are potential tourists. If Rwanda gets just 5% of that 10m people over three years, and each person spends on average USD2,000, the country would earn a gross income of one billion dollars. What a return on a meager USD39.9m?
Those worried about their aid money being spent on Arsenal should know that no country anywhere in the world has ever developed when it was depending on aid. Like the old Chinese proverb says; don’t give people fish, teach them how to fish. Rwanda is learning to fish by signing this multimillion dollar deal instead of going to London only with begging bowls. And if they spend their money on the right thing like they have done with Arsenal, it is good thing. Tourism creates many jobs directly and indirectly.
But Rwanda has also invested in other related infrastructure. Rwanda Air will get more people on its seats, the Kigali Convention Centre will have more conferences and the new airport under construction seems to fit into this strategy. I see many people opening up lodges and starting new businesses that is related to the tourism industry because of this campaign. Also, if people visit Rwanda and love it, they will invest thereby attracting foreign direct investment.
Uganda will also benefit from Visit Rwanda as some tourists may prefer to visit a few attractions. Instead of condemning the Visit Rwanda campaign like we are doing on social media, we should instead position ourselves to take advantage. Our tourism entrepreneurs should rush to Kigali and sign partnership agreements.
The people responsible for our tourism should strategise on how to take advantage instead of being defensive like I saw some of them on Facebook. One even said sports doesn’t work because, wait a minute, they tried Visit Uganda on Uganda Rugby Cranes jerseys. If sports doesn’t work, companies like Emirates airlines wouldn’t be renewing their partnerships with Arsenal all the time. And at the core of Emirates partnership with Arsenal is actually attracting visitors to Dubai, one of the fastest growing tourism destinations in the world. Whatever excuses we give, the Visit Rwanda campaign ticks all the right boxes for any country whether in Africa or elsewhere.
The writer is a communications and visibility consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org
**Photo taken off Arsenal’s official website