Rwanda: Positioning a country through sports and beyond

By Ibrahim Sagna, chairman, Silverbacks Holdings

I had the privilege to live in Rwanda for about five years of my life. I often commend my guests for being able to bring an impossible idea into reality: Rwanda might just be the epitome of that concept.

Visit Rwanda is in partnership with the 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 engineering such partnerships.

The power of Rwanda is its consistent ability to surpass itself and permanently raise the bar. The country’s strategy around sports is only the tip of the iceberg. Beyond sports, Rwanda stands out as an exceptional centre for entertainment, live events and business due to its remarkable commitment to development, innovation, and its continued efforts to promote the 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 entertainers. Additionally, Rwanda’s strategic location and business-friendly policies have made it a hub for regional and international trade, fostering a vibrant 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 business in general. Many companies are increasingly using the country as a hub for multiple reasons. Over a decade ago, it was one of the first African nations to allow all Africans to visit by getting visas upon arrival. Many other African nations have since followed suit. Today, citizens from African Union, Commonwealth and Francophone countries do not require any visa, all others countries get visa on arrival.

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

“It has to start from the foundation, for us it’s the vision of our President H.E. Paul Kagame”

Michaella dives into what has made Rwanda’s strategy successful. She explains how having a common vision, upheld by a leader is instrumental for the execution of a nation branding strategy. The President of Rwanda has been recognized for his pioneering and bold initiatives to promote Rwanda. This includes building the Kigali BK Arena in just six months, which has since seen returns through basketball tournaments, concerts, and global meetings such as the FIFA World Congress, Giants of Africa Festival, and the BAL. The venue frequently hosts concerts with global stars. Additionally, the soon-to-be-completed Amahoro Stadium, which will seat 45,000 fans for football, is another commendable project. Furthermore, Rwanda is set to host the World Cycling Championship in 2025.

“Sports have a unifier effect”

Michaella explains why sports has become an instrumental element of Rwanda’s strategy to stimulate tourism. The BAL finals are one of the few periodic rendezvous that have made Kigali the place to be: an occasion to experience the successful execution of a nation branding vision powered through sports. Rwanda has been hosting the BAL finals for three years in a row and has just signed a new five year agreement. Visit Rwanda sport partnerships have been instrumental for the tourism recovery post-Covid. Just in 2022, the country attracted more than 1 million visitors generating beyond $240 million in revenues .

“Revenues from the gorillas trekking are reinvested in the community”

Rwanda’s tourism has largely been driven by gorilla trekking activities. Our very own company, Silverbacks, was inspired by my face-to-face encounter with arguably one of earth’s most edifying creatures, one endowed with as much calm as sheer dominance.

Michaella reveals that the popularity of these treks have allowed the country to nurture the gorilla community to the point that their natural habitat will now have 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, and Winston Duke and Danai Gurira of the Black Panther cast. Next year’s 20th Anniversary will see the participation of all the namers since the beginning of Kwita Izina.

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

Watch the full interview at the top of this article.