Rwanda has become the official tourism partner of English football club Arsenal FC, whose players will sport a “Visit Rwanda” logo on their sleeves, the club announced Wednesday.
The tiny country’s leader, President Paul Kagame, is an ardent Arsenal fan and often expresses his opinions about the club’s performances during summits and on social media. The three-year deal with Arsenal is the latest bid by Kigali to draw tourists and investors to the country, burnishing its reputation as a safe, sought-after destination.
Ever since the devastating 1994 genocide in which 800,000 mainly Tutsis were killed, the country has been praised for a swift economic turnaround.
“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,” Arsenal’s chief commercial officer, Vinai Venkatesham, said in a statement.
“The Arsenal shirt is seen 35 million times a day around the world and we are one of the most viewed teams around the world.”
As the club’s first-ever sleeve partner, the “Visit Rwanda” logo will appear on the shirt of all first team, under-23 and Arsenal Women’s players from the new season this August, the club has announced.
Rwanda Development Board CEO, Clare Akamanzi, said that the sponsorship deal will highlight the country’s tourism offers, but would not be drawn on how much it had cost.
“While we cannot disclose the amount, the partnership cost is part of our marketing budget to promote Rwanda and attract investors and tourists,” she said.
Rwanda is one of only three countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, where one can see mountain gorillas.
The country has in recent years re-introduced lions and rhino to its Akagera National Park — which had gone extinct due to poor conservation — to become a Big Five safari destination.
“In addition, we are telling investors to Visit Rwanda and discover why we are the second fastest growing economy in Africa, growing at 7.3 percent per annum,” said Akamanzi.
She added that Arsenal players from the men’s and women’s teams will visit Rwanda and club coaches will host coaching camps to support the development of football in the country.
Rwanda received 1.3 million visitor arrivals in 2017 and tourism is Rwanda’s largest foreign exchange earner, government statistics show.
The country has decided to focus on high-end low-impact tourism, and last year doubled the price of a gorilla permit to $1,500 (1,300 euros). Kagame is revered in some quarters for stopping Rwanda’s genocide and engineering what admirers see as an economic miracle, but rights groups accuse him of crushing all opposition and ruling through fear.
The 60-year-old won a third-term in office last year after the constitution was changed to allow him to potentially stay in power for another two decades.