On May 23, the world woke up to the first such deal in which a global football brand agrees to advertise a country. In this case, Arsenal FC was to be party to the “Visit Rwanda” tourism campaign. Tempers exploded. Rwandan officials have been called names.
In return, Rwandan officials have fought back hard and uncompromising. But amidst the noise, few details have been divulged, until now. In a rare interview, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), which handled the deal, speaks at length.
Emmanuel Hategeka, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) spoke exclusively to Vincent Gasana, host of the “Rwanda Beyond The Headlines” radio show on KT Radio 96.7FM. The show aired Sunday 8-9pm.
“…By the way they approached us because they love Rwanda,” revealed Hategeka. “They said ‘by the way can we do something together. And if so what could that be? How could we promote you? How can we work together?….”
Much of the hostile reaction has been seen with the terminology of the deal – with some branding it as “Rwanda sponsoring Arsenal”, which Hategeka vehemently dismisses. “Its a partnership agreement with Arsenal,” he argues.
Was the fact that President Paul Kagame who is a huge fan of Arsenal a factor in choosing it? Did money change hands? All these are issues discussed in the 1-hour show.
“Beyond the complaints, beyond the noise, beyond the headlines that we have seen around this visit Rwanda campaign, it remains one of our biggest campaigns in terms of promoting our tourism industry in Rwanda,” said Hategeka. “Lets probably start from the basics; first tourism is our leading foreign exchange earner having generated over $480m in foreign exchange for 2017. Secondly, we have a target to double that to over $800m by 2024…..Third, we have a strategy to achieve that. I wouldn’t want to look at the Arsenal deal in isolation of every other thing that we have been doing to promote tourism in Rwanda.”
Government is under fire in the foreign media frenzy that has described the deal as “poor funding rich”. But the details in the deal go beyond just the words “Visit Rwanda” appearing on the sleeves of Arsenal jersey. The deal was signed in May and the launch was on August 12, during Arsenal’s first match of the football season.
Here is some of what the detail entails:
1) Gives Rwanda what is called ‘Sleeve partnership’ – whereby all Arsenal players will wear “Visit Rwanda” sleeves during all matches.
2) Camera visibility – “Visit Rwanda” will be beamed on LED screens for 6 minutes distributed across the 90 minutes of the game, allowing millions of viewers watching on TV or other broadcast formats like online and the tens of thousands attending the march inside the stadium.
3) First Team players will visit Rwanda – Arsenal like all other big teams has players in different categories. But the Rwanda deal allows RDB to invite the top players who are called in the deal as “First Team Players”.
4) Coaching and mentorship – Arsenal top players will also coach and mentor Rwandan football players, a project aimed at rising the standard of local talent. It will also help promote the game of football in Rwanda.
“We became the first country, the first tourism board to successfully negotiate and conclude a sleeve partnership – probably why it caught people off guard,” said Hategeka. “May be it was least expected. Anyway Rwanda has so firsts and this was not the first.”
Hategeka told host Vincent Gasana that the Arsenal deal had already began changing the years-old negative narrative on Rwanda. Hategeka said that he had recently received a group of investors one of whom confided in him that when they planned Rwanda visit 5 years ago the questions they had to answer was “Are you safe in that country?”.
But on the latest visit, the question the investors’ delegation had to respond to was “Ooooh that country that signed a deal with Arsenal!”
Hategeka said: “So it was no longer the negative perception, it was ‘Ooh the other country that signed deal with Arsenal, ooh we would love to come with you’….for me the deal changes also the narrative on Rwanda.”
“Rwanda came from a very dark past, but we are not going to be stuck in history. We have to rise up, build the country and forge a new livelihood for our people.”
He said the the ‘Visit Rwanda’ campaign is targeting even the “naysayers”, to whom he adds; “The best way to look at this is to come visit Rwanda, don’t stop in the city and think you have seen it all. Go to the communities, engage with the people, understand the way they live and you will get a different paradigm.”