Rwanda Makes Uganda Jealous, the West Furious

Football and I have a complicated relationship.

I am a soccer mum from a soccer family and I used to do sports broadcasting, what included digesting uncomfortable amounts of Premiership information. But as an African woman I also lament our men not having the balls to reject the kicking of white balls on giant TV screens… It’s peer pressure, I tell you. How could anyone honestly enjoy the over-long over-dramatic dance of 22 over-paid ballerinas every other day?

Rwanda and I have a complicated relationship.

It’s no secret I am proudly Rwandan, both by identity and nationality, and I used to host a weekly TV show on Rwanda’s national television. Yet I was born and raised in Uganda, and I carry the DNA of an extremely different country where we speak our minds and criticise and politicise and theorise to our heart’s content. … And where we are often envious of Rwanda’s unity and action-oriented zeal.

However, for me there’s just nothing complicated about Rwanda’s Arsenal deal.

As my blog is read around the world, I can assume some of you need the basics first: at the end of May the English football giant Arsenal signed an up-to £30 million sponsorship deal with Rwanda. No, this wasn’t about Arsenal supporting football academies in Rwanda or something like that! No no, it was about Rwanda paying to put “Visit Rwanda” logos on the jerseys of Arsenal’s players of all ages and sexes for a period of three years.

Everyone knows President Paul Kagame (PK) is an avid Arsenal fan. Too many observers in the West have argued that this is misuse of power, a greedy act of a selfish dictator.

I think they don’t get it. I think the sponsorship is a global marketing coup, a master stroke.

I was interested in what the Ugandan media had to say on the topic. They know Rwanda best, and even though our Gorilla Highlands initiative is trying to promote working together, the two countries do compete for mountain gorilla tourism dollars:

Nicholas Sengoba of the Monitor:

“Just imagine if ‘only’ a 100,000 people out of the 35 million, who view the Arsenal shirt everyday decided to visit Rwanda and paid for mountain gorilla tracking permits in each of the years of the duration of the shirt sleeve deal.”

Jacobs Odongo Seaman of the Sunday Monitor:

“Yes, Rwanda really sucks. Can you imagine Ugandans wouldn’t give a damn if South Sudan signed a diaper deal with Donald Trump, but have spent weeks discussing this ‘Visit Rwanda’ sleeve deal with Arsenal?”

Denis Jjuuko of the Observer:

“Whatever excuses we give, the Visit Rwanda campaign ticks all the right boxes for any country whether in Africa or elsewhere.”

Andrew Mwenda of the Independent:

“I find it difficult to believe that anyone of the critics in the British press would fail to see the value of Rwanda’s investment in this sponsorship of Arsenal. If the benefits are this obvious, what really could have led sections of the British media and some politicians in continental Europe to denounce the deal if it is not racism combined with individual ignorance and stupidity?”


Harsh words, but justified. Instead of thinking marketing or business, they think charity and politics.

What about looking at the facts and numbers? According to Rwanda Development Board (RDB), 80 gorilla permits are issued a day at $1,500. At full capacity, that would be about $120,000 per day, coming to $43.8 million a year. And that’s just gorillas! Currently Rwanda gets $400 million a year from tourism.

Why don’t we allow Clare Akamanzi, RDB CEO, to say it herself? Below is an infamous BBC interview, a fascinating showcase of the UK media attitude:

So much prejudice in one interview! Not only towards Rwanda, towards football watchers as well! … I don’t know about Britain, but over here every class follows the game?

And, as Mwenda has mentioned, it is not just journalists … some governments are chipping in too! The UK went on record clarifing that foreign aid is earmarked for specific development activity rather than using taxpayers’ money for sponsorship of a very wealthy football team. Politicians in countries like the Netherlands and Germany have gone as far as calling for an inquiry?! Oh yes, despite the fact that the Rwanda Development Board was distinctively clear that the source of this investment were tourism revenues and not foreign aid…

The British should actually be pleased. While their old Empire came with dire unintended consequences, the cultural football Empire tends to result in foreign investment. Unlike their former colonies sending them millions of economic migrants back, Rwanda is kindly sending them millions of pounds. No need to Brexit that.

Those Rwandans who believe their “dictator” is wasting money on a playtoy, should definitely first consider what other presidents have splurged on — in the neighbourhood and beyond. Wives’ shopping sprees, fancy airplanes, expensive golfing weekends, and so on an on. Kagame, on the other hand, is a simple, austere man and if he happens to love a club that will now promote Rwanda globally, what’s the big deal?

text: Isabelle Masozera