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Rwandan leader Paul Kagame signed a deal that is half the £64million in taxpayers’ money Britain hands to Rwanda in aid. ON a dusty pitch outside an orphanage, groups of boys kick a plastic bottle between goalposts made from piles of stones.
They used to play with a proper football borrowed from a school. But it burst four months ago and no one can afford the £20 needed for a new one.
This does not stop the youngsters dreaming of one day travelling from the orphanage in Rwanda to the Emirates Stadium in North London — to watch the favourite team of their country’s president, dictator Paul Kagame.
Incredibly, the leader of the poverty- stricken country last month signed a controversial £30million shirt sponsorship deal with Arsenal. That is nearly half the £64million in taxpayers’ money Britain hands to Rwanda in aid every year.
Only a generation ago, nearly a million people were wiped out by genocide in the East African country, officially the 19th poorest nation in the world.
Its citizens earn just £2 a week on average.
Yet the country’s leaders are happy to spend £10million for each of the next three years on a logo adorning the left sleeves of Arsenal’s multi- millionaire players.
In return for forking out millions for the “Visit Rwanda” motif and match- day LED advertising boards around the stadium, President Kagame and his cronies will receive VIP hospitality and access to Arsenal’s players for promotional work.
But in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, there is very little sign of the millions in aid money that Britain and dozens of other Western countries have sent to help the nation.
The youth club at Children In Distress Orphanage is run by three men who lost their entire families during the 1994 genocide, when Hutu militia killed 800,000 mainly Tutsi citizens.
Bosco Hakimana, 24, was 12 months old when he came to the orphanage.
He says: “Now the very poorest and most vulnerable children in the district can come here after school and in the school holidays because their parents cannot care for them.
“We teach them sport but we cannot play football or basketball at the moment. We are saving up to buy a new football. For now we can play cards and puzzles.
“We have computers as well but at the moment they are broken so we are waiting to get them fixed.”
Asked how long they had been out of action, Bosco replies: “Three years.”
President Kagame came to power in 2000 after ousting the Hutu militia.
Tony Blair calls him “a visionary’ and ex-US president Bill Clinton described Kagame as “one of the greatest leaders of our time”.
But Rwanda is a one-party state with no political opposition and no Press freedom.
Kagame has been accused of having rivals silenced. Last August the dictator was re-elected with 98 per cent of the vote and he has the right to stay in office until 2034.
Human rights organisations reported how critics of Kagame’s regime are rounded up, unlawfully detained in military camps, tortured and killed.
There have been at least seven assassinations or attempted assassinations of leading Rwandan dissidents living abroad since 2010.
The country’s former army chief of staff narrowly survived assassination in South Africa.
Rwanda was also accused of funding and arming a rebel force in eastern Congo, which forced 500,000 people to flee.
Arsenal, who earlier this year had £140million in the bank, are accused of turning their famous red and white kit into a “shirt of shame” with the Rwandan deal.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said: “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.
“If this isn’t a perfect own goal for foreign aid, I don’t know what is.”
Human rights campaigner Rene Mugenzi lives in London after fleeing Rwanda following death threats from Kagame’s henchmen.
A man feared to have been sent to attack him was intercepted and refused entry to the UK.
Mr Mugenzi called on Arsenal to scrap the “obscene” deal, adding: “Britain should stop giving money to Rwanda because it just frees up their government to spend money on crazy things like this.”
Rwanda relies on foreign aid for nearly half of its budget.
Britain was one of its biggest donors, providing about five per cent of the national budget — more than the Rwandan government spends on defence.
David Himbara, a former aide to Kagame who now lives in South Africa and is on an alleged Rwandan government hit list, says it is a mystery what happens to the millions in aid we send to the country. He says: “The United Kingdom’s aid to Rwanda is misplaced. It’s wrong. It cannot be justified.”
But the UK’s Department for International Development insists: “DFID does not give any money to Visit Rwanda or the Rwanda Development Board.
“All UK aid to Rwanda is earmarked for specific programmes only, such as education and agriculture, and we track results to ensure value for money for UK taxpayers. We are helping Rwanda to stand on its own two feet.”
The Rwanda Development Board said the Arsenal deal was part of a plan to double tourism.
That is its largest source of foreign currency and brings foreign holidaymakers to see the country’s famous mountain gorillas and even its genocide memorials.
A spokesman said its target would only be met by marketing the country “in innovative ways”.
Arsenal said the deal “will help Rwanda meet tourism goals and develop football in the country”. There is no doubt that despite their poverty, many people in Rwanda really do believe the president’s favourite club can help change the fortunes of their country.