Critics, mainly from the UK and the Netherlands, are questioning why Rwanda, a donor-dependent country that still struggles with high levels of poverty, made such a lavish sponsorship deal. Legislators from both regions have demanded that their respective governments revisit the development support they provide to Rwanda.

An article titled “Shirt of shame” in the British newspaper Daily Mail said the deal makes a mockery of “British fair play”. The article quotes Tory MP Andrew Bridgen as saying, “British taxpayers will be rightly shocked to learn that a country supported by huge handouts from the UK is in turn pumping millions into a fabulously rich football club in London. It’s ludicrous. If this isn’t a perfect own goal for foreign aid, I don’t know what is. It serves to expose the complete idiocy this system is based on.”

Earlier in the year, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said that Britain would cut foreign aid to developing countries if they fail to invest in their own people. She said the British government, which gives out £13 billion in foreign aid a year, “will not invest when others should be putting their hands in their pockets”.

Mordaunt said that the public had “nagging but legitimate doubts” about where aid money was going. She said it was no longer enough for a project just to be achieving good things.

Read: ‘Visit Rwanda’: Rwanda becomes Arsenal’s first official tourism partner

“I want the governments of developing countries to step up and take responsibility for investing in their own people, in healthcare or education, for example. If [they choose] not to, that will inform our decisions around our funding. We will continue to prioritise investments in saving lives, tackling undernutrition, improving health and getting kids a quality education.

“But our focus will increasingly be on helping developing countries stand on their own feet and build sustainable health and education systems that they invest in themselves.”

Rebuff to the critics

Announcing the deal on 23 May, Arsenal described Rwanda as “one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa, with a booming tourism sector that has seen the number of visitors double in the last decade”.

The chief commercial officer, Vinai Venkatesham, said, “The country has been transformed in recent years and Arsenal’s huge following will bring Rwanda into people’s minds in a new and dynamic way.”

Affirming the need for sustainability, Clare Akamanzi, chief executive of the Rwanda Development Board, said in a statement that the deal with the London side would boost tourism in the central African state and help it reduce its reliance on outside help.

Akamanzi said the deal was less than the reported £30 million and the cash came from tourism revenue rather than aid payments. The investment will assist Rwanda “not to perpetually look at itself as an aid recipient”, she said, adding: “Our country has made progress over the last 15 or 20 years because we made good choices and we think about the choices that we make.

“Arsenal shirts are viewed 35 million times every time they play. Arsenal is one of the most popular football clubs in Africa. Arsenal is also very popular in the UK and the UK is the second highest source of tourism numbers in the world.”

‘‘Our national goal is to double tourism revenues to US$800 million by 2024, from US$404 million currently. This won’t happen by sitting and waiting, but by being proactive, and marketing Rwanda as a tourist destination in innovative ways. Now – relax and let the world visit Rwanda,” she added defiantly.

The UK aid agency Department for International Development clarified the areas in which aid money is used and how they keep track of spending.

“UK aid to Rwanda has been carefully and specifically earmarked for programmes that will support the country’s most vulnerable people and help it stand on its own two feet.

“UK aid is not used for sponsorship deals with Arsenal FC and Department for International Development is not giving any money to Visit Rwanda or the Rwanda Development Board,” Department for International Development said in a statement. The agency said it supports education and agricultural programmes and tracks “results to ensure value for money for UK taxpayers.”