KIGALI, Rwanda — Rwanda’s government on Tuesday defended its $39 million sponsorship deal with the Arsenal football club as some aid donors and rights activists raised an outcry.
"Visit Rwanda" will be emblazoned on the left sleeve of players in Arsenal’s first, under-23 and women’s teams.
President Paul Kagame is an Arsenal supporter. The deal was not approved by Rwandan lawmakers.
Deputy Foreign Minister Olivier Nduhungirehe told The Associated Press that the money for the sponsorship deal came from tourism, which is the small East African country’s top foreign exchange earner.
"Donors’ aid is specific and well accounted for in Rwanda," Nduhungirehe said in response to criticism from British lawmakers in UK media.
Rwanda remains one of the poorest countries in the world and continues to recover from the 1994 genocide that killed more than 800,000 people. Over a third of its population lives in poverty.
Local political analyst Robert Mugabe called the Arsenal deal elitist, saying many Rwandans did not know how it will benefit them. "Many people in Rwanda are kept in the dark and don’t know the actual money invested. Rwandans are learning this through foreign media," Mugabe said.
The country’s goal is to double tourism receipts from $404 million by 2024, the Rwanda Development Board said in a statement.
The board’s CEO said anyone who criticizes the Arsenal deal because Rwanda is an aid recipient either wishes the country to remain poor or doesn’t understand the key role marketing plays.
"The more Rwanda earns from tourism, the more we can invest in our people. That’s the connection," the CEO, Claire Akamanzi, said on Twitter.
One Rwandan Arsenal fan, Olivier Muhizi, said people who criticize the deal don’t understand.
"Many Asian and Western countries do this routinely, marketing their brands to develop. Rwanda does not deserve criticism; it has done nothing wrong," Muhizi said.