What is Arsenal FC's marketing strategy

Why Rwanda's sponsorship deal with Arsenal FC divides opinions

Numerous oligarchs and sheikhs have been romping among the sponsors of English football clubs for years. Rwanda has recently become one of the sponsors. The small developing country in East Africa will support Arsenal FC from London with an estimated 34 million euros for three years. Instead, the slogan "Visit Rwanda" ("Visits Rwanda") will appear on the left sleeve of the jersey of the players around the recently retired German national player Mesut Özil.

The announcement at the end of May sparked a heated debate. Some rage that the poor country shouldn't put millions into a rich football club. The others insult the critics as neo-colonialists. Some simply see it as a smart marketing move. The discussion is not an easy one: opinions are divided on Rwanda, with its impressive economic development and an increasingly authoritarian president.

The state, just under the size of Brandenburg, experienced an unusual boom after the genocide of 1994 with more than 800,000 deaths. In large part thanks to Paul Kagame, who was largely responsible for ending the genocide and who has led the country as head of state since 2000. Poverty has fallen, political stability has been restored and the economy has grown strongly. But Rwanda still has a long way to go. According to the World Bank, almost 60 percent of the approximately twelve million people still live in extreme poverty, i.e. on less than 1.90 dollars (around 1.60 euros) a day.

This is precisely why Rwanda wants to boost tourism - one of the country's most important sources of income. Rwanda's green national parks with their mountain gorillas are still not a typical travel destination for many tourists, but that is about to change. Tourism currently brings in around $ 400 million a year, and that is expected to double to $ 800 million by 2024, explains the Rwandan development company behind the Arsenal deal.

"The more Rwanda earns from tourism, the more we can invest in our population," said boss Clare Akamanzi, defending the advertising contract. In this way, Rwanda should slowly become independent of development aid.

"It's a brilliant marketing strategy," says Tlali Taoana, chief strategy officer at Ogilvy & Mather in Africa. The publicity that Rwanda will get from the worldwide popularity of Arsenal and the English Premier League is unbeatable. In his view, Rwanda will also benefit beyond tourism, for example in the form of investments from abroad. The country's image will also improve. "It shows Rwanda in a different light," says Taoana of the advertising deal. A poor country does not get money, it does exist. Rwanda is turning the tables.

But can a country that receives large amounts of development funds do that? The Rwandan development company has made it clear that the funds for the Arsenal deal come from tourism income. But some politicians in the donor countries are still critical of this. To pump millions into a wealthy football club, where Rwanda is getting a lot of money from Great Britain to support it, is a "perfect own goal for development aid", criticized British MP Andrew Brigden in the media.

In addition, Arsenal is Kagame's favorite club, he calls himself a "fan". The pragmatic modernizer is driving the country forward. But as he continues to strengthen his position of power, human rights, freedom of the press and opposition work are increasingly restricted. Critics see in the advertising deal the action of an autocrat who pursues his personal passion. But the question of who is "allowed" alone raises the charge of neo-colonialism.Ignatius Ssuuna and Gioia Forster, dpa