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Rwanda’s partnership with Arsenal is already a win

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Rwanda’s attractions are varied and exciting. With the launch of the Congo-Nile Trail, sports and mountain biking enthusiasts from all over the world are flocking to Rwanda, and we are also home to East Africa’s only canopy walk.

The marketing deal between Rwanda and Arsenal has generated a lot of attention since it was announced last month, most of it positive.

Some observers, however, have been unable to overcome their incredulity that a small African country like ours is putting real money behind the idea that we have something unique to offer. But why is it normal for Alberta and Bermuda to market themselves, but not for a place like Rwanda?

The op-ed recently published in these pages by Professor Lisa Delpy Neirotti is typical of this prejudice. A recognised expert in sports marketing, she is perfectly entitled to her own opinions. But not to her own facts, and her mistakes are numerous.

First, memorial sites of the Genocide against the Tutsi are not tourist attractions. They have never been marketed as such, and never will be. These are sacred places of burial and remembrance for Rwandans.

Visitors to our country who wish to better understand our history are of course most welcome to visit the memorials. But to claim, as Professor Neirotti does, that Rwanda’s only two attractions are gorillas and death, betrays profound contempt.

Second, interest in visiting Rwanda is rising, not falling, as she asserts. Rwanda’s three main national parks – Akagera, Nyungwe, and Volcanoes — saw a six per cent increase in visitor numbers in 2017. It is easy to see why.

Rwanda is one of the safest and most hospitable countries on the planet. It is also the only place where tourists can see the Big Five (lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, and buffalo), as well as the critically endangered mountain gorilla and several bird species endemic to the high-altitude rainforest in Nyungwe National Park.

Rwanda’s attractions are varied and exciting. With the launch of the Congo-Nile Trail, sports and mountain biking enthusiasts from all over the world are flocking to Rwanda, and we are also home to East Africa’s only canopy walk.

Third, Rwanda’s tourism strategy is not based solely on wildlife. Conference and meetings tourism is growing fast, driven by strategic investments in RwandAir, world-class hotels, and the iconic Kigali Convention Centre, one of Africa’s largest and most modern. Citizens of any country in the world can get a visa on arrival in Rwanda.
In 2017, Rwanda earned $42 million from this segment; this year’s earnings are projected to be $74 million. We have hosted the World Economic Forum, and two African Union Summits. Nearly 30,000 international delegates are descending on Kigali this year to participate in more than 90 confirmed international meetings.

Last month, the International Congress and Convention Association ranked Rwanda the third most popular destination in Africa for hosting international events.

Rwanda’s visitors have varied accommodation options, ranging from major international hotel chains such as Radisson Blu, Marriott, and Serena, as well as the award-winning boutique eco-lodge, Bisate Lodge, where Ellen DeGeneres and her wife Portia de Rossi stayed on their visit last month.

Our country has come a long way. Today, Rwanda has over 10,000 hotel rooms, up from just 600 in 2001. Professor Neirotti claims there are no flights from Rwanda to the UK, but in fact RwandAir has been flying to London-Gatwick since May 2017, alongside more than two dozen other destinations, including Brussels, Dubai, Mumbai, and most major cities in East and West Africa. New routes to the United States and China are set to launch in 2019.

Arsenal is one of the most popular teams, in the most-watched league of the world’s most popular sport. The Arsenal jersey is seen 35 million times a day. The Visit Rwanda deal has created enormous global interest, which is exactly what we wanted.
Whatever opinions they have about the deal, people are talking like never before about Rwanda as a tourism destination.

Ultimately, in Rwanda, we are going to pursue our goals the way we think best, just as every other country should. For us it is already a win.

Commentator: Clare Akamanzi, chief executive officer of the Rwanda Development Board.

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Strictly Personal

All eyes in Africa are on Kenya’s bid for a reset, By Joachim Buwembo

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Whoever impregnated Angela Rayner and caused her to drop out of school at the tender age of 16 with no qualifications might be disappointed that we aren’t asking who her baba mtoto (child’s father) is; whether he became a president, king or a vagabond somewhere, since the girl ‘whose leg he broke’ is now UK’s second most powerful person, 28 years since he ‘stole her goat’.

Angela’s rise to such heights after the adversity should be a lesson to countries which, six decades after independence, still have millions of citizens wallowing in poverty and denied basic human dignity, while the elite shamelessly flaunt obscene luxury on their hungry, twisted faces.

After independence, African countries also suffered their adolescent setbacks in the form of military coups. Uganda’s military rule lasted eight years, Kenya’s about eight hours on August 1, 1982, while Tanzania’s didn’t materialise and its first defence chief became an ambassador somewhere.

What we learn from Angela Rayner is that when you’re derailed, it doesn’t matter who derailed you, because nobody wants to know. What matters is that you pick yourself up, not just to march on, but to stand up and shine.To incessantly blame our colonial and slave-trading ‘derailers’ while we treat our fellow citizens worse than the colonialists did only invites the world to laugh. Have you ever read of a colonial officer demanding a bribe from a local before providing the service due?

African countries today need to press ‘reset’. A state operates by written policies, plans, strategies and prescribed penalties with gazetted prisons for those who break the rules.  This is far more power than teenage Angela had, so a reset state should take less time to become prosperous than the 28 years it took her to get to the top after derailing.

So it’s realistic for countries to operate on five-year planning and electoral cycles, so a state that fails to implement a programme in five years has something wrong with it. It needs a reset.

A basic reset course for African leaders and economists should include:

1. Mindset change: Albert Einstein teaches us that no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. For example, if you are in debt, seeking or accepting more debt is using the same level of thinking that put you there. If you don’t like Einstein’s genius, you can even try an animal in the bush that falls into a hole and stops digging. Our economists are certainly better than a beast in the bush.

2. Stealing is wrong: African leaders and civil servants need to revisit their catechism or madarasa – stealing public resources is as immoral as rape.

3. Justifying wrong doesn’t make it right: Using legalese and putting sinful benefits in the budget is immoral and can incite the deprived to destroy everything.

4. Take inventory of your resources and plan to use them: If Kenya, for example, has a railway line running from Mombasa to Nairobi, is it prudent to borrow $3.6 billion to build a highway parallel to it before paying off and electrifying the railway?

If Uganda is groaning under a $2 billion annual petrol import bill, does it make sense to beg Kenya for access to import more fuel, when Kampala is already manufacturing and marketing electric buses, while failing to use hundreds of megawatts it generates, yet the country has to pay for the unused power?

If Tanzania… okay, TZ has entered the 21st Century with its electric trains soon to be operating between Dar es Salaam and Morogoro. Ethiopia, too, has connected Addis Ababa to the port of Djibouti with a 753-kilometre electric railway,  and moves hundreds of thousands of passengers in Addis every day by electric train.

5. Protect the environment: We don’t own it, we borrowed it from our parents to preserve it for our children. Who doesn’t know that the future of the planet is at stake?

6. Do monitoring and evaluation: Otherwise you may keep doing the same thing that does not work and hope for better results, as a sage defined lunacy.

7. Don’t blame the victims of your incompetence: This is basic fairness.

We could go on, but how boring! Who doesn’t know these mundane points? We are not holding our breath for Angela’s performance, because if she fails, she will be easily replaced. Africa’s eyes should now be on Kenya to see how they manage an abrupt change without the mass bloodshed that often accompanies revolutions.

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Strictly Personal

The post-budget crisis in Kenya might be good for Africa, after all, By Joachim Buwembo

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The surging crisis that is being witnessed in Kenya could end up being a good thing for Africa if the regional leaders could step back and examine the situation clinically with cool-headed interest. Maybe there is a hand of God in the whole affair. For, how do explain the flare not having started in harder-pressed countries such as Zambia, Mozambique and Ghana?

As fate would have it, it happened in East Africa, the region that is supposed to provide the next leadership of the African Union Commission, in a process that is about to start. And, what is the most serious crisis looming on Africa’s horizon? It is Debt of course.

Even the UN has warned the entire world that Africa’s debt situation is now a crisis. As at now, three or four countries are not facing debt trouble — and that is only for now.

There is one country, though, that is virtually debt-free, having just been freed from debt due to circumstances: Somalia. And it is the newest member of the East African Community. Somalia has recently had virtually all its foreign debt written off in recognition of the challenges it has been facing in nearly four decades.

Why is this important? Because debt is the choicest weapon of neocolonialists. There is no sweeter way to steal wealth than to have its owners deliver it to you, begging you, on all fours, to take it away from them, as you quietly thank the devil, who has impaired their judgement to think that you are their saviour.

So?

So, the economic integration Africa has embarked on will, over the next five or so years, go through are a make-or-break stage, and it must be led by a member that is debt-free. For, there is no surer weapon to subjugate and control a society than through debt.

A government or a country’s political leadership can talk tough and big until their creditor whispers something then the lion suddenly becomes a sheep. Positions agreed on earlier with comrades are sheepishly abandoned. Scheduled official trips get inexplicably cancelled.

Debt is that bad. In African capitals, presidents have received calls from Washington, Paris or London to cancel trips and they did, so because of debt vulnerability.

In our villages, men have lost wives to guys they hate most because of debt. At the state level, governments have lost command over their own institutions because of debt. The management of Africa’s economic transition, as may be agreed upon jointly by the continental leaders, needs to be implemented by a member without crippling foreign debt so they do not get instructions from elsewhere.

The other related threat to African states is armed conflict, often internal and not interstate. Somalia has been going through this for decades and it is to the credit of African intervention that statehood was restored to the country.

This is the biggest prize Africa has won since it defeated colonialism in (mostly) the 1960s decade. The product is the new Somalia and, to restore all other countries’ hope, the newly restored state should play a lead role in spreading stability and confidence across Africa.

One day, South Sudan, too, should qualify to play a lead role on the continent.

What has been happening in Kenya can happen in any other African country. And it can be worse. We have seen once promising countries with strong economies and armies, such as Libya, being ravaged into near-Stone Age in a very short time. Angry, youthful energy can be destructive, and opportunistic neocolonialists can make it inadvertently facilitate their intentions.

Containing prolonged or repetitive civil uprisings can be economically draining, both directly in deploying security forces and also by paralysing economic activity.

African countries also need to become one another’s economic insurance. By jointly managing trade routes with their transport infrastructure, energy sources and electricity distribution grids, and generally pursuing coordinated industrialisation strategies in observance of regional and national comparative advantages, they will sooner than later reduce insecurity, even as the borders remain porous.

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