opinionBy Nicholas Sengoba
The Republic of Rwanda has signed a shirt deal with the (of late) English Premiership League side, Arsenal FC, which came 6th in the EPL and was 37 points behind eventual winners, Manchester City.
The deal will have the badge ‘Visit Rwanda’ inscribed on the club’s shirt sleeves for the next three years allegedly setting back Rwanda by about £30 million. The deal will highlight Rwanda’s tourism prospects which include national parks and a variety of wild animals plus the investment opportunities of the country.
According to Arsenal’s chief commercial officer, Vinai Venkatesham, the Arsenal shirt is seen 35 million times a day around the world making it one of the most viewed teams around the world (The East African). Of those viewers, some may inquire about Rwanda and consider making a visit. It makes a lot of sense, at least on paper.
According to Rwanda Development Board, (RDB) “Tourism is the largest source of foreign exchange earnings in Rwanda and it is projected to grow at a rate of 25 per cent every year from 2013 to 2018.” The CEO of RDB, Ms Claire Akamanzi, says tourism revenues stand at $ 404m and is intended to double by 2024 with increased marketing of Rwanda.
In 2017, RDB claims 1.3 million visitors arrived in Rwanda and nearly 94,000 of them visited the country’s three national parks, Nyungwe, Akagera and Volcanoes. Volcanoes Park is the home of the famous mountain gorillas found only in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Rwanda, tourists pay about $1,500 for a tracking permit.
Just imagine if ‘only’ a 100,000 people out of the 35 million, who view the Arsenal shirt everyday decided to visit Rwanda and paid for mountain gorilla tracking permits in each of the years of the duration of the shirt sleeve deal, Rwanda would recoup its investment and have more than enough left to laugh all the way to the bank. So the argument that Rwanda receives about £64m from Britain and is now ‘wasting’ £30m pounds is not exactly fair.
This deal has left many Ugandans who love comparing and contrasting the fortunes of the two countries, green with envy.
Many have scorned and made fun of our much touted effort to attract tourists by promoting the ‘rolex;’ a popular cheap food item in Uganda, combining an egg omelet with vegetables wrapped in a chapati.
Well, both Uganda and Rwanda’s revolutionary long staying democratic governments led by ‘former’ soldiers, who believe in self-reliant pan-Africanist solutions to African problems could think of a few things to add to what they are already doing, be it Arsenal shirts or rolex bites. Marketing a country takes more than just buying slots on global television networks like CNN or sponsoring sports shirts.
The starting point for sustainable and effectual promotion of a country like charity, is at home. Citizens are easier to mobilise to visit their own country, get to know it and sell it to outsiders. That way, they get to appreciate their own country and speak for it at every opportunity when they encounter foreigners and potential visitors.
The practice here is that many Ugandans, like most Africans, feel very cheated, ill-treated and are hardly proud of their countries because they are badly governed. They bad-mouth it to whoever cares to listen. That would waste any investment in publicity of a country.
A government needs to invest in its people, their welfare, health, housing and general well-being. Ensure they are paid the sort of salaries and wages that can afford them the luxury of touring their own country with ease, get to know it well, be proud of it and sell it.
Secondly, invest at home in infrastructure that makes people very productive and competitive at the global level. Sports facilities are special because sport generally attracts a lot of attention. A facility like the high altitude training centre in Iten Kenya; the so-called Home of Champions has produced so many great marathoners and steeple chase athletes over the years that the marathon has become synonymous with Kenya.
Because of Kenya’s athletic dominance, when the great cities of London, Berlin, Boston, Tokyo, Chicago, etc, hold the annual marathon, which are big events that receive wide coverage, Kenya gets a lot of ‘free’ publicity and mileage globally. It becomes a talking point. It uses these athletes as the launching pad for its robust and vibrant tourism industry.
All this is complimented by investment in infrastructure like hotels, lodges and tour operators at the service of visitors.
Then of course there is security of person and property plus good governance.
No shirt deal or rolex meal will attract visitors to a country where reports of women being raped and people being kidnapped by ‘unknown criminals’ taking advantage of the peaceful environment in the country.
Similarly, none will come if the streets are battle grounds between the Opposition and the ruling party or where hospitals have become hospices because money intended for them is stolen.
The author is a commentator on political and social issues.