Rwanda: Calling It Wasted Money Won't Deter Rwanda From Demanding Its Share of the U.S.$500 Billion Global Sports Industry

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, left, and FIFA President Gianni Infantino

Reading Rwanda Development Board CEO, Clare Akamanzi's article in The East African 'Sportswashing? No. Rwandans benefit from the business of sport' I was taken aback with a paragraph in the article where she highlighted just how much the tourism industry had recovered since the pandemic shut down the world. According to her, our tourism marketing strategy through 'Visit Rwanda' helped "generate US $445 million in tourism revenues courtesy of the over one million visitors to Rwanda in 2022. This revenue represented a 90 per cent recovery to pre pandemic levels, as compared to a global average of 65 percent recovery according to the World Tourism Organisation".

Then I read another article, this one published by AFP, and titled 'Wasted Money': Rwanda Splurges On Sports Despite Criticism'. In this article, the line that stood out for me was one made by felon and self-styled 'opposition politician' Victore Ingabire. Asked to comment, she said 'these investments do not meet the immediate needs of the vast majority of Rwandans". She, an accountant by trade, then concludes by calling Rwanda's tourism strategy "wasted money."

There is a saying from Abraham Lincoln, I refer myself to whenever I'm tempted to spout something that isn't well thought out. He said it's, "better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt". I know nothing about Ingabire's accounting credentials, but I can say, with absolute confidence that she knows nothing about tourism, country marketing and the relationship both have with sports.

Here is what I do know.

When the tens of millions of global fans of Arsenal Football Club and Paris Saint Germain watch the games broadcast into their homes, there is a message that they simply cannot miss. 'Visit Rwanda'. And when they buy the iconic kits and warm-up jerseys of their favourite football teams, they find the words 'Visit Rwanda' right there too.

As millions of African basketball fans watch the fast-paced Basketball Africa League (BAL) games in their living rooms, the words 'Visit Rwanda' are splashed right on the jerseys of their favourite African team. Whether the team is the 'Cape Town Tigers' or the Ugandan 'City Oilers', the word 'Visit Rwanda' is right there once again.

And when, in 2025, the best of the best in global cycling tackle the famous 'Wall of Kigali' in the very first UCI Road World Championships on the African continent, you can bet that the words 'Visit Rwanda' will be ubiquitous.

Now, similar to how western media, local lackeys and other global gatekeepers reacted in 2018 when the Visit Rwanda/Arsenal FC partnership was first announced, they are wondering afresh how a poor country like ours deems itself worthy of taking our rightful position in the sports industry.

They want to keep the conversation on our poverty, social challenges and tragic history. They want to remind us that we receive millions in foreign aid.

The question that we must ponder is, who woke up and made them the gatekeepers of global sport? If there was an election, Rwanda certainly wasn't asked to cast a ballot. So, if there wasn't a vote then the gatekeepers are the very thing that they accuse us of being, dictators.

They want to dictate how we engage with the world, and how we engage with each other.

To them, the idea of Rwanda, a small African nation, unapologetically demanding and getting a slice of the half a trillion-dollar global sports industry is an anathema. It turns the whole pyramid on its head. Rwandans, and other members of the global South, are meant to be consumers of sports. They don't have an issue with us watching the games and buying the jerseys. It's when we join the 'business of sport' that we see a pushback. "You can spend your hard-earned money on sport, you just can't make any", seems to be the message here.

To that we say, a defiant "NO". We shall not hide under a rock and remain a basket-case of a country. The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi will not remain the prism in which the world sees this nation of 13 million extremely hardworking and ambitious women and men. We have much more to offer the world than just a sad story.

As CEO Akamanzi reminded us, Visit Rwanda's partnership with Arsenal and Paris Saint Germain generated over $160 million last year in media value. That value generated positive tourism numbers for us as a result.

The one million international visitors who arrived in Rwanda last year didn't just happen to travel to Rwanda. That was due to a lot of investment, marketing and hard work by both our public and private sector. And these visitors didn't leave us peanuts. They left us close to half a billion dollars!

So, when a former jailbird, found guilty of genocide denial and threatening state security, talks about the "needs" of Rwandans, I am left scratching my head. Where does she think the money that the Government of Rwanda uses to build hospitals, schools and roads comes from?

To attempt to besmirch what Rwanda is trying to accomplish using all the means at its disposal, including partnering with sports teams and organisations, is to stand in direct opposition to the country's development agenda. Tourism is an industry that impacts just not those who are directly employed in it. The tourism eco-system impacts the farmers who grow the food that is consumed and the cab drivers that take the visitors to and fro. And that is the truth.

The writer is a socio-political commentator

AllAfrica publishes around 600 reports a day from more than 100 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.