The African tourism fraternity was happy when one of its own declared interest to run for the highly sought-after post of Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), which is going to be vacant at the end of 2017 when Taleb Rifai, the outgoing Secretary-General will hand over to a successor.
With years of experience, global networking and execution of impactful tourism projects in his country, Walter Mzembi, Tourism Minister of Zimbabwe and the current Chairperson of the UNWTO Regional Commission for Africa, was endorsed as the sole candidate for Africa. With that feat, Mzembi started networking within and outside the continent in preparation for election slated for May 2017 where he will slug it out with other candidates from Georgia, Mexico, and Brazil (Marcio Favilla, current UNWTO executive director for operational programmes and institutional relations, already endorsed by his home country Brazil).
To ensure that Africa clinches the position for the first time since the creation of the United Nations agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism in 1975, the African Union threw its weight behind Zimbabwean Mzembi, and even Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states – including Seychelles – unanimously endorsed Mzembi’s (Zimbabwe) candidature in March 2016. African Heads of State and Government, meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, in July 2016, added their own unanimous endorsement of Mzembi, who thus became Africa’s candidate for UNWTO.
In its confirmatory letter of endorsement, addressed to the Secretary General of the UNWTO, the African Union Commission stated that: “It is the firm conviction of African Heads of State and Government – as evidenced by their unanimous endorsement of Dr. Mzembi’s candidature – that he has the qualifications, skills and competence; the vision; and, equally as important, the drive and passion to successfully build on the remarkable legacy bequeathed to global tourism by His Excellency Dr. Rifai, and to lead the organization and global tourism to new heights of relevance, recognition, and results – tourism being an effective vehicle for sustainable development, the building of deeper understanding between peoples and cultures, and for the reinforcement of the quest for greater global harmony and peace.”
But while Africans were rallying round Mzembi with the hope of giving him a block vote, a bad news broke on December 28, 2016 when Alain St. Ange, the then Minister of Tourism for the Republic of Seychelles, resigned his position to contest (for the second time) the same position the continent has already had a sole candidate for.
The question most Africans who are passionate about tourism development across the continent asked was: Why now? But while that question may be rhetorical, the one that needs urgent answer is: Why divide Africa’s vote and chances at the UNTWO?
In his opinion, Ikechi Uko, CEO, Akwaaba African Travel Market/team leader, The Team Africa, Seychelles is already occupying the position of Head of Africa at UNWTO, a position vacated by Senegal, hence pushing for Secretary-General of UNWTO will be taking undue advantage of the continent. But going by the UNWTO politics, it seems the some caucus want Georgia to win and the only way is to use an African to divide African vote, and probably offering Seychelles the position of Deputy Secretary-General for splitting Africa’s votes in favour of the desired winner.
Having entered the race and left little or no impression at the first time, Mathieu Keroki, a Congolese tourism expert, said that the Seychellois St.Ange should have respected Africa’s choice instead of voicing his interest once again, and probably aiming to divide Africa’s vote.
“I think he is not fit for the job. He should respect the choice of Africa and support Mzembi’s candidature,” Keroki said. The major concern for Bongani Kumalo, a South African resort owner, is the fact that the position takes long to revolve, and now the wheel is favouring African, the continent should move against any opposition within or else, other continents will keep splitting Africa’s votes in their selfish favour.
“Before the flag off of their campaign in Madrid, Spain later this month, Africa should intervene on St.Ange to step down, so that we can speak with one voice and block vote is important too,” Kumalo warned.
The race is getting hotter as Brazillian Marcio Favilla and African Walter Mzembi set to clash at their launch during FITUR in Madrid on January 19, 2017 to get supporters for ahead of the UNWTO Executive Council meeting scheduled to be held in Madrid in mid-May, 2017. As well, St.Ange will be presenting his manifesto as well to the global body in campaign for UNTWO’s top position. For those who doubt Walter Mzembi’s endorsement and capabilities:
Mzembi has served as Zimbabwe’s Minister of Tourism and the Hospitality Industry since 2009. Prior to that, he held various positions in both the public and private sectors in Zimbabwe and internationally, including heading the Zimbabwe delegation to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly for three consecutive years.
He has represented his country on the UNWTO Executive Council and is currently serving his second consecutive term as Chairperson of the UNWTO’s Regional Commission for Africa. Mzembi has a long-standing, deep, and abiding passion for tourism in all its many facets, as well as a well-defined and clearly articulated vision for the future development of the global tourism industry under the umbrella of the UNWTO.
After the Madrid launch the candidates will continue their campaign to other global tourism bodies and blocks, seeking further support and eventual votes.