First, the multi-million dollar sponsorship of the English Premier League club Arsenal in 2018, followed by a deal to support the French giants. Paris Saint-Germain a year later.
Meanwhile, a third “famous” club is on the cards for Rwanda, according to President Paul Kagame, who has spent a small amount of money on investments that he says are the when it ignites the international image and expands the economy of the small central African country.
But the spending, which includes sponsoring clubs and hosting duties for events ranging from 2021’s Basketball Africa league tournament to the road cycling World Championships in 2025, has led to accusations of “sports-washing”. , or using games to hide the danger of the country’s rights.
Critics accuse Kagame of cracking down on political parties and stifling free speech during his more than 22 years in power.
“These investments do not meet the immediate needs of the majority of Rwandans,” said opposition politician Victoire Ingabire, a staunch critic of Kagame.
“I don’t believe he will get his investment back,” he told AFP, adding that little aid had helped Rwandans in rural areas.
“It’s a waste of money”.
The poor country, which has a per capita income of $822 according to World Bank figures in 2021, has spent millions of dollars on improving its sports infrastructure and building new house.
The national stadium is currently being renovated with a capacity of 25,000 to add 20,000 seats in a project worth $165 million and expected to be completed next year.
An 18-hole golf course designed by South African golfer Gary Player and worth $16 million will open in the capital city of Kigali in 2021.
In 2017, Rwanda opened a $1.3 million cricket stadium on the outskirts of Kigali, followed a year later by a $104 million 10,000-seat basketball stadium.
Government officials have defended the projects, arguing that they strengthen the country’s reputation as a safe haven for high-profile media.
Rwanda, whose turbulent history is marked by the 1994 genocide, hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) last year, attended by about 30 leaders. including King Charles III, who was a prince.
And FIFA will be in town this week for its 73rd congress to re-elect its leader Gianni Infantino who is running unopposed.
The administration said such events bring in much-needed foreign currency and boost the country’s economy, which is dependent on tourism.
Tourism revenue before the pandemic rose 17 percent to $498 million in 2019, according to the Rwanda Development Board.
The Chief Executive Officer, Clare Akamanzi, said at the end of the week that the supporters of Arsenal and PSG received more than $160 million worth of media. This brought one million visitors to Rwanda, injecting $445 million in tourism revenue, he added.
“These governments not only left Rwanda with good memories; they also played a direct role in improving people’s lives,” he wrote in an opinion published on Saturday in the East African newspaper. .
“It is good to disagree with the example of the Rwandan authorities, but a campaign that undermines investment in the economy of a developing country, which has a real impact on the lives (of) people, is disrespectful and slanderous .”
The government’s MP, John-Ruku Rwabyoma, echoed his sentiments in an interview with AFP, accusing critics of the agreement as “misguided” and that the government is acting for the benefit of his people.
“We are not here to appease the critics based on their agenda. Where were all these critics when Rwanda was suffering?”
For Kagame – a strong supporter of Arsenal – the deal was more “by far what we invested in”, he said this month, adding that the government is on board to support the third team.
The 65-year-old became president in April 2000, although he has been considered the de facto leader of the country of nearly 13 million people since 1994.
“I know what we put in; I know how much we get,” he said, without offering any details.
A foreign minister who spoke on condition of anonymity to AFP was skeptical about the claims.
“I don’t know if it’s cheap… if it’s going to be good in the long run, maybe then, but right now, I don’t think so,” he said, adding that he had not seen in numbers to support the government’s story.
However, the doubts raised by “experts who don’t know much about Rwanda, and exploit on weakness” will do little to stop the plans, according to the RDB’s Akamanzi.
“We will not be punished to put our position at the table,” he said.
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