It’s about Africa travel and tourism, not Zimbabwe

In 2012, Canada threatened to withdraw from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in protest for “honoring” Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe by inviting him as part of the “Leaders for Tourism Campaign.”

What most people don’t know is the so-called “campaign” is really just a formal appreciation from UNWTO and the World Travel & Tourism Council, which helped author the program, to presidents/heads of states for their strong commitment to the travel and tourism industry. Hosting global travel and tourism events is one of the many ways in which a country president would get such an “appreciation.”

This being the case, it was protocol for the UNWTO to issue President Mugabe their “appreciation” because the next UNWTO General Assembly is being held from August 24 to 29 this year in Victoria Falls, which is located on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. Consequently, Zambian President Michael Sata was also given the designation as part of the “Leaders for Tourism Campaign.”

Nonetheless, Canada, with its misguided and narrow vision of the concept of what “travel and tourism” is really about, withdrew from the UNWTO. Whether you agree or disagree with that decision is no longer a relevant discussion at this point, as the 20th session of the global organization’s General Assembly is scheduled to take place two months from today. What is important to address at this point is the talk that Zimbabwe is allegedly not doing its part in co-hosting the event and that Zambia might end up having to shoulder most of the responsibilities of hosting the event.

When I spoke to UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai at the 2013 edition of WTTC’s Global Tourism Summit, held in Abu Dhabi, he had this to say about the highly controversial Victoria Falls UNWTO General Assembly:

Zambia/Zimbabwe General Assembly

So far the reports we’re getting is that it is coming along. It is not easy to host a General Assembly in that part of the world because of the limited capacities, experiences and exposure. But under the circumstances, the people responsible on both sides of Victoria Falls are doing their best.

I am not concerned at all about the logistics and the putting together because we’re not there really to just enjoy our time, although we will. The members will be ready to live with a different character for this meeting. If the General Assembly is not going to meet under a concrete roof but rather under a clothed roof of a big tent, that’s fine, it is not a problem. I just hope that the content, the political environment and the will and the atmosphere will be conducive.

Meeting for Africa

This is a conference for Africa. It is not a meeting for a particular country. As a matter of fact, it is hosted by two countries. It’s a meeting in these two countries in Victoria Falls but on the behalf of all the African community. And that is the way we should see it. Otherwise, we will be missing the point.

The people of Zambia and Zimbabwe deserve to be helped and assisted. We have an obligation to be there and to show them that the world is there for them. After all, the charter of the UN starts by saying “we the people of the world.”

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 being held 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. That to me is more important than anything else.