Positioning a country through sport and beyond

by MMC
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By Ibrahim Sagna, Chairman of Silverbacks Holdings

I had the privilege of living in Rwanda for about five years of my life. I often congratulate my guests for successfully bringing an impossible idea to life: Rwanda might just be the embodiment of this concept.

Visit Rwanda is partnering with NBA, FIFA, Arsenal, PSG and FC Bayern Munich to boost tourism, sports and entertainment. The Rwanda Development Board (RDB) is the country’s investment promotion institution that designs such partnerships.

The power of Rwanda it is his constant ability to surpass himself and raise the bar ever higher. The country’s sports strategy is just the tip of the iceberg. Beyond sports, Rwanda stands out as an exceptional center of entertainment, live events and business due to its remarkable commitment to development, innovation and its continuous efforts to promote creative economy.

The country has invested heavily in state-of-the-art sports facilities, such as the Kigali BK Arena, which has attracted major international sporting events and renowned artists. Additionally, Rwanda’s strategic location and business-friendly policies have made it a regional and international trade hub, fostering a dynamic business environment.

Overall, Rwanda’s forward-thinking approach, coupled with its stunning natural landscapes and rich cultural heritage, makes it an exceptional destination for sports, entertainment, live events and general business. Many companies are increasingly using the country as a hub for several reasons. More than a decade ago, it was one of the first African countries to allow all Africans to visit by obtaining a visa on arrival. Many other African countries have since followed suit. Today, citizens of the African Union, Commonwealth and French-speaking countries do not need any visa, all other countries obtain a visa on arrival.

We spoke with Michaella Rugwizangoga, director of tourism at RDB, on the sidelines of the Basketball Africa League (BAL). Here are some nuggets of knowledge for you. Watch the full episode at the top of this article.

“We must start with the foundation, for us it is the vision of our President SEM Paul Kagame”

Michaella explains what made Rwanda’s strategy successful. She explains how having a common vision, championed by a leader, is key to executing a national brand strategy. The President of Rwanda has been recognized for his pioneering and bold initiatives to promote Rwanda. This includes the construction of the Kigali BK Arena in just six months, which has since seen results through basketball tournaments, concerts and global meetings such as the FIFA World Congress, the FIFA Giants Festival Africa and the BAL. The venue frequently hosts concerts with world stars. Furthermore, the soon to be completed Amahoro Stadium, which will accommodate 45,000 football fans, is another laudable project. Additionally, Rwanda is expected to host the World Cycling Championships in 2025.

“Sport has a unifying effect”

Michaella explains why sport has become a key part of Rwanda’s strategy to boost tourism. The BAL finals are one of the rare periodic events that have made Kigali the place to be: an opportunity to experience the successful execution of a national brand vision driven by sport. Rwanda has hosted the BAL final for three consecutive years and has just signed a new five-year agreement. Visit Rwanda’s sports partnerships have been instrumental in tourism recovery post-Covid. In 2022 alone, the country attracted more than a million visitors generating more than $240 million in revenue.

“Revenues from gorilla trekking are reinvested in the community”

Tourism in Rwanda has been largely driven by gorilla trekking activities. Our own company, Silverbacks, was inspired by my face-to-face encounter with arguably one of Earth’s most uplifting creatures, blessed with equal parts calm and pure dominance.

Michaella reveals that the popularity of these treks has allowed the country to nurture the gorilla community to the point where their natural habitat will now need to be expanded. Earlier this year, the country held its 19th Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming ceremony attended by several celebrities, including Idris Elba, Joakim Noah, as well as Winston Duke and Danai Gurira from the cast of Black Panther. Next year’s 20th anniversary will see the participation of every name since Kwita Izina’s debut.

As a testament to Rwanda’s efforts to develop sustainable tourism, UNESCO has now recognized Nyungwe National Park as a World Heritage Site.

Watch the full interview at the top of this article.

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