Rwanda eyes African football to boost tourism, increase air traffic and grow grassroots football

Rwanda eyes African football to boost tourism, increase air traffic and grow grassroots football [Graphics: Hope Mukami]

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has unveiled Rwanda as a key sponsor for the inaugural edition of the African Football League. This partnership will prominently feature the well-known ‘Visit Rwanda’ campaign within the continent. The strategic collaboration aims to boost tourism, advance sports development, and enhance air traffic.

Bonface Orucho, bird story agency

Rwanda is set to co-sponsor the inaugural African Football League as it seeks to leverage the upcoming competition to drive tourism, bolster grassroots sports, and increase air traffic.

In a significant collaborative effort, the Government of Rwanda, through the Rwanda Development Board, the Ministry of Sports, and RwandAir, unveiled this milestone partnership in a notification released on Tuesday (October 17).

According to Véron Mosengo-Omba, CAF Secretary General, the alliance with the ‘Visit Rwanda’ campaign “marks a major milestone.”

“Together, we will unlock new horizons for the beautiful game on our continent, showcasing its breathtaking landscapes, vibrant culture, and the passion of our fans,” he explains.

This strategic endeavour seeks to ignite two of the continent’s most dynamic sectors: tourism and sports.

The African Football League is being touted as a major milestone in African football’s history, bringing together the finest club teams from across the continent to vie for an annual title.

This year’s lineup of football powerhouses, selected based on CAF rankings, includes Al Ahly from Egypt, Wydad AC from Morocco, Espérance Sportive de Tunis from Tunisia, TP Mazembe from DR Congo, Enyimba from Nigeria, Mamelodi Sundowns from South Africa, ATL. Petro Luanda from Angola, and Simba FC from Tanzania.

Future editions of the tournament are slated to feature 24 teams, a shift from an initial eight, after the federation encountered challenges in securing the initial $100 million funding from sponsors.

With this monumental deal, “Visit Rwanda” branding will take centerstage on players’ jerseys, in stadiums during matches, at partner workshops and events, across broadcast and on online media channels, websites, and more.

Francis Gatare, Chief Executive Officer of Rwanda Development Board, underscored the vision.

“We aim to present the new Rwanda to an audience exceeding 1 billion viewers tuning in to the annual league and to ensure comprehensive support for our young players, coaches, sports operators, and private sector throughout the ecosystem,” he explains.

Several African nations have previously harnessed their tourism potential through sports. For instance, Malawi recently successfully forged a partnership with the Spanish Segunda Division club, CD Leganes, as a rotating sponsor for the club.

Rwanda, too, has been a staunch supporter of English Premier League side, Arsenal, utilizing the league platform to position Rwanda as a premier tourist destination in Africa. Since 2019, Rwanda has also maintained similar affiliations with French Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain.

Other collaborations are rooted in the private sector, such as Kenya’s Mukuru, a money transfer service sponsoring Crystal Palace, and South Africa’s Hollywood Bets backing Brentford FC.

Going beyond football, the Rwanda Development Board has an active sponsorship deal with the Basketball Africa League.

However, the new accord between Rwanda and CAF is distinctive for its focus on elevating domestic tourism within Africa.

Besides, AFL will collaborate closely with the Rwandan Ministry of Sports and Football Federation, with plans to develop youth initiatives, including a local youth league.

According to Aurore Mimosa Munyangaju, Rwanda’s Minister of Sports, the partnership with the Ministry of Sports ensures “more Rwandans can showcase their footballing talent on this platform.”

“It will reach millions of global viewers and spotlight Africa as a footballing powerhouse,” he explained.

Meanwhile, RwandAir will serve as the league’s airline partner, facilitating the transportation of participating teams to countries along its routes. The airline, which has seen steady growth, currently operates a fleet of nearly 15 aircraft.

This partnership deal also emphasizes the underlying willingness for football development in Rwanda driven mainly by the government. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and King Mohammed IV of Morocco were honored in March with the Outstanding Achievement Award from CAF, recognizing their contributions to the advancement of African football.

Notably, CAF has recently announced “Visit Saudi” as the primary sponsor of the African Football League set to kick off on October 20, 2023, in Dar es Salaam and run until November 11, 2023.

The championship promises a grand prize of US$4 million for the victors and US$3 million for the runners-up, while the four quarter-finalists will each receive US$1 million and the semi-finalists US$1.7 million each.

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