Sour relations with UNWTO? The new Zimbabwe tourism minister or Walter Mzembi


Zimbabwe and the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) relations are set for major improvement with the global body pledging to host another high profile event in the country in 2019, the Zimbabwe Broadcast Corporation (ZBC) said in a report published yesterday.

It’s hard to understand what “major improvements” the ZBC is referring to. It very much looks UNWTO and the new Secretary General, Zurab Pololikashvil, is getting involved in a domestic issue in Zimbabwe without realizing it. This issue might even cost the freedom of former Zimbabwe’s tourism minister, Walter Mzembi, who is currently awaiting trial in Harare for most likely political reasons.

It didn’t appear there were any sour relations between Zurab Pololikashvil and Walter Mzembi. Zimbabwe should keep its domestic issues away from UNWTO and the international fora.

If it wasn’t for a man with an idea, an ambition and a tourism minister with a qualification and a vision hardly anyone in the travel and tourism industry had, the best ever attended UNWTO General assembly with 120 voting countries would not have happened. The UNWTO General Assembly was held in 2013 in Livingston, Zambia and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The man was the Honorable Minister of Tourism for the Republic of Zimbabwe, Dr. Walter Mzembi.

“There are no sour relations between the UNWTO and Zimbabwe,” contends Mzembi, who in his acceptance speech in China promised to be the first to congratulate Pololikashvil. Mzembi actually was the first congratulating and the picture speaks for the rest.

Zimbabwe should keep its domestic issues away from UNWTO and the international fora especially global events if it is going to achieve the brand and reputation it is seeking to establish. There are no sour relations between Pololikashvil and Mzembi.

Dr. Taleb Rifai, celebrated recently as the most respected Secretary General of the UNWTO started his second term at the General Assembly in Zimbabwe and Zambia. He knew this.

Taleb Rifai said this in 2013, “Having two hosts can be quite challenging but the corporation between the two countries has been remarkable and has seen the successful hosting of the event .”

Dr. Rifai praised the Zimbabwe minister in 2013, and he praised him many times again over the years and again recently in 2017 at a gala dinner event hosted in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Dr. Taleb Rifai praised the youthful Zimbabwean tourism minister Walter Mzembi, applauding his professionalism as well as the conduct and focus.

Going further, Dr. Rifai applauded the Minister for the outstanding contribution he had made, by way of his diplomatic outreach program, towards enhancing the image and overall country brand of his native Zimbabwe. He told Mzembi:  “For me, you are already a winner….you have already won.”

ICTP Chairman Juergen Steinmetz, who is also the publisher of this news wire (eTN) had many conversations with Mzembi over the last 6 years. Steinmetz suggested to Mzembi numerous times: “You are the most consistent, educated and proactive tourism minister I ever met, you do miracles for your country you love, but unfortunately you serve the wrong president. You constantly work against all odds and the major part of the world is not behind your country, even though they may want to be behind you.” Mzembi privately never disputed this but worked tirelessly to make tourism better.

In an eTN interview in 2013 Taleb Rifai actually had a great feedback when asked by eTN Nelson Alcantara: “You can find things to say about political systems around the world, but at the end of the day, where do we draw the line? We have an obligation to serve people wherever they are, under whichever political system that they are living under. I am happy about the General Assembly in Victoria Falls because of a young woman that works in a hotel in Zimbabwe or a young man who is a receptionist in Zambia. They are the ones who need to see that the world is with them; they are the ones that are yearning to see the international community come and be with them.”

When Mzembi was asked about this, he very much appreciated Rifai’s comment without wanting to go on the record.

Monday, January 22, 2018, this man, Dr. Walter Mzembi will face a courtroom in Harare after he was recently expelled from his political party and after his boss, dictator Mugabe was ousted and replaced. Mzembi is facing a criminal trial. When he was a minister of tourism he donated four big screen TV sets to churches in order to increase religious tourism to Zimbabwe. Even though he had no monetary advantage doing this, the new Zimbabwe government wants to see Mzembi in prison for misuse of power.

In a 2013 report, the Financial Gazette said: “Walter Mzembi, the Zimbabwe Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, said movements of religious people constitutes tourism since the majority of them spend days and nights away from their normal homes.

“This is a reality that as leaders we cannot afford to ignore. This is a reality we must not only recognize but which we must find ways of addressing so that our people’s religiosity is leveraged for the best interests of our nation,” Mzembi said in 2013, continuing “Religion promotes peace and harmony with spiritual well-being considered as an integral part of people’s way of life.”

A year later thousands of Jehovah’s Witness parishioners have descended on Harare, snapping up all available hotel accommodation and spending millions of dollars as government’s religious tourism push pays off. Walter Mzembi, the minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, told the Daily News.

Perhaps it’s time for Zimbabwe’s new progressive to learn from the past, but honor those that did well in the past. Keeping the Zimbabwe image up during impossible times is an achievement on its own. It would be a good move for the new leadership to use the experience and wisdom of people like Mzembi for a better future Zimbabwe.  Dr. Mzembi knows this and just two days ago offered his support for Zimbabwe’s new leadership and announced an open pledge of alliance to Zimbabwe under the new  President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Last year, when Mzembi was in competition with Zurab Pololikashvil to become the next UNWTO Secretary-General, could it mean a personal relationship could turn “sour” during such a process? Of course it could.

BUT, does it mean at any time the relationship between UNWTO and Zimbabwe turned sour? This would be hard to comprehend unless the UNWTO is only Pololikashvili, and Zimbabwe is only Walter Mzembi.

The recently appointed current minister for Tourism and Hospitality for Zimbabwe last week attended FITUR in Madrid. Her name is Her Excellency Cde Priscah Mupfumira. She said the country is pleased with the improved relations with the global body and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to host another major event.

When she was appointed she had told a local newspaper: “Tourism is a key contributor to the economy. So for me, the first thing is about brand Zimbabwe, the brand, making sure that we attract as many tourists as possible and grow the sector’s contribution to Government revenue.”

The new UNWTO secretary general Zurab Pololikashvili last week said in Madrid he is passionate about assisting the Southern African country to grow its tourism industry.

Zimbabwe Tourism Authority chief executive Mr. Karikoga Kaseke said last week, he was excited about the support being extended to the country adding that the authority was hopeful the event to be hosted in 2019 will be another UNWTO General Assembly.

Riding on the goodwill being shown to the country at the ongoing 2018 FITUR, Zimbabwe is looking forward to taking advantage of the”renewed confidence to reposition itself as a safe and attractive tourism destination.

Minister Priscah Mupfumira opposes Mzembi domestically. According to Mzembi, UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvil called Mzembi recently to voice his support for Mzembi’s difficult personal struggle he is currently going through. This call clearly shows there was were”sour” relations between the two men.

It can only be hoped Mr. Polokikashvil understands how to balance this difficult situation to maneuver it to a good way forward for UNWTO’s relationship with Zimbabwe, the new minister of tourism for Zimbabwe Priscah Mupfumira and the legacy UNWTO owes to Walter Mzembi.

The world is watching and when one “of us is under attack” so is the rest of us. The UNWTO embracement of the code of ethics includes how we also treat each other in such circumstances.



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