Rwanda Defends Arsenal Football Shirt Sponsorship Deal after Aid Outcry

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A Rwandan official has defended the country’s decision to enter into a sponsorship deal with Arsenal while it receives tens of millions of pounds in aid from Britain.

Clare Akamanzi, chief executive of the Rwanda Development Board, said the deal with the London side would boost tourism in the central African state and help it reduce its reliance on outside help.

The three-year deal with the Gunners, who finished sixth in the Premier League last season, will see it become a “sleeve sponsor”, with “Visit Rwanda” on the team’s shorts next season.

In a fiery interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Akamanzi said the deal was less than the reported £30 million and the cash came from tourism revenue rather than aid payments.

The investment was part of Rwanda’s driver for “self-reliance” and to allow it “not to perpetually look at itself as an aid recipient”, she said, adding: “Our country has made progress over the last 15 or 20 years because we made good choices and we think about the choices that we make.

“Arsenal shirts are viewed 35 million times every time they play. Arsenal is one of the most popular football clubs in Africa.

“Arsenal is also very popular in the UK and the UK is the second source of tourism numbers in the world.”

The UK paid £64 million in aid to Rwanda in 2017/2018, with a further £62 million due to be paid in 2018/2019, according to Department for International Development (DfID) documents.

Ms Akamanzi added that Rwanda had reduced reliance on foreign aid from 80% of its budget a decade ago to 17% today.

It makes around £50 million a year just from permits to visit its famous population of mountain gorillas, she told the programme.

She added: “We have a goal to double tourism from 404 million dollars to 800 million dollars. How is that going to happen if we are not proactive about how we market ourselves to the world?”

The president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, is reported to be an Arsenal fan.

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Human Rights Watch says that his country, sandwiched between Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, has “tight restrictions on freedom of speech and political space”, with a knock-on effect on economic development.

In December, HRW said that, over the previous seven years, Mr Kagame’s regime had “frequently detained and tortured people, beating them, asphyxiating them, using electric shocks and staging mock executions”.

Announcing the deal on May 23, Arsenal described the country as “one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa with a booming tourism sector that has seen the number of visitors double in the last decade”.

Chief commercial officer Vinai Venkatesham said: “The country has been transformed in recent years and Arsenal’s huge following will bring Rwanda into people’s minds in a new and dynamic way.”

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