While the majority of top-flight clubs have been pushing Rwanda Football Federation (Ferwafa) to relax restrictions on foreign players, APR FC chairman Gen. Mubarak Muganga and his club are of a different view.
Since the 2012/13 season, APR have not used a single foreign player and have collected six out of nine league titles.
"It was difficult at the beginning, but it was a risk worth taking," Muganga told Weekend Sport in an exclusive interview on Tuesday. "The policy is now paying off, so there is no going back."
The local football governing body employs a 3-3 rule on foreign players in the Rwanda Premier League despite a continued push from some clubs to revise the rule, arguing that it falls short when it comes to giving competition to home players and, as a result, undermines the level of the league and the national team.
Under the current 3-3 rule, clubs are only allowed to have three foreigner players on starting line-ups, and three on the bench.
The rule is, however, no longer a debate for the likes of APR FC, Marines FC and Police who have not used foreign players for the last eight years.
APR, on their part, first discussed the 'homegrown players only' policy back in 2008 but it was not until 2012 that the implementation began - after four years of preparation and transition.
For Muganga, adopting the policy might have been one of the most difficult decisions the club has ever taken and some of its senior officials thought it was a threat to APR's dominance.
"When the proposal came about, we couldn't imagine how we would fare without foreign players. We kept hesitating until we took the decision in 2012," he recalls.
At the early start, Muganga says, it seemed like a mistake the management had taken. However, the club's achievements eight years later are an indication that it was worth it.
"It's a decision that was difficult to take but, with the current outcomes, we have no plan to sign any foreign player ever again. The policy is working."
The army side are arguably the biggest franchise in domestic football and that gives them power to attract the best players in the country where most clubs struggle to meet or maintain the demands of their key players. At the same time, APR also earn awesomely from their players who find clubs in foreign leagues.
For instance, just in the last three years, the black-and-white outfit sold midfielder Djihad Bizimana to Belgian side Waasland-Beveren for 189,000 Euros (about Rwf226 million) in 2018, before forward Muhadjiri Hakizimana joined Emirates FC, in the United Arab Emirates, for a record fee of USD300,000 - about Rwf297 million.
Muganga argues that other clubs ignore the talents that Rwanda has in its ranks and opt to sign foreign players who can't make a difference, only to be paid high amount of wages that very few local players get.
"The wages given to foreign players are one of the reasons behind the fact that clubs are suspending or slashing payments of their staff during the pandemic. They would be a better financial position if they invested in homegrown talents."
Towards long-term results
APR's early elimination in the CAF Champions League last month was disappointing for both the club's hierarchy and Moroccan head coach Mohamed Erradi Adil when Kenyan champions Gor Mahia knocked them out in the preliminary round.
Nonetheless, it was expected. Despite dominating the local scene, APR have not performed well in continental competitions, particularly since the 'home players only' policy was adopted.
The premature exit from the competition prompted criticism about the policy. Gen. Muganga, however, insists that his administration is building a club that can challenge and succeed in African competitions, and will be targeting the group stage next season.
"We gave ourselves two years to make it into the group stages of the CAF Champions League. The first attempt failed, so we have one more chance next season.
After that, we will sit down and discuss necessary changes that need to be made."
Investing in the academy
The policy of using Rwandan players only does not concern the APR first team. It also includes the process of scouting and nurturing young talents from across the country through its academy.
The academy has so far produced 119 players who went on to earn promotion into the senior team or joined other clubs. Muganga estimates that the club invests at least Rwf5 million on each of their academy talents before their graduation.
Most of the academy graduates join the first team, or are sent to second division side Intare or loaned to topflight league's Marines FC as per the existing cooperation agreements.
Collaborations with PSG, Arsenal
In 2019, French club Paris Saint-Germain unveiled plans to launch a football academy in Rwanda as part of their three-year partnership with Rwanda - through the #VisitRwanda brand.
Muganga says that APR is monitoring the development and looks forward to discussing with the French club how its young players can be integrated into their football development programmes.
The same, he added, is likely to happen with English side Arsenal, a partner with Visit Rwanda since May 2018.