Zimbabwe and Zambia relaunched their Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) Univisa on 21 st of December 2016 at a dazzling ceremony hosted by the Ministers of Home Affairs from both countries in Livingstone, Zambia. The countries’ Ministers of Tourism Hon Dr Walter Mzembi, the Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry of Zimbabwe, the current UNWTO Regional Commission for African Chairperson and the
African Union (AU) candidate for the UNWTO Secretary General post for the elections to be held in 2017, and his Zambian counterpart, Minister of Tourism and Arts of Zambia, Hon Banda (MP) who is also the Vice Chairperson of the UNWTO Executive Council, also put their signatures on the Agreement, sealing its implementation that kicked off immediately after the signing ceremony on the same day.
The event, which was punctuated by worldclass artistic performances from both countries, marked the resumption of a common Univisa between Zimbabwe and Zambia which will soon be expanded to Angola, Botswana and Namibia in the second phase, and later on incorporate Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland. Eventually, it will cover the entire SADC region which is a sub-regional economic bloc of fifteen countries. Tourism Industry players from both countries were in attendance.
The KAZA Univisa, which is a legacy project initiated by the two countries during the 20 th Session of theUNWTO General Assembly is a huge milestone in the history of travel in which the UNWTO General Assemblyhas left permanent footprint. The 20 th Session General Assembly held by Zimbabwe and Zambia wasdescribed by the UNWTO Secretary General Dr Taleb Rifai as “the best ever General Assembly in the historyof General Assemblies” during the opening ceremony in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe in 2013, and credit goes to
Minister Mzembi and his Zambian counterpart for working hard and demonstrating that the Ministers have thecapacity to organize and host global events.
It is not by coincidence that the African Union has put forward Hon Dr Walter Mzembi as its sole candidate forthe post of UNWTO Secretary General that falls vacant in 2017 with election expected to be held in Spain inMay, 2017. It is interesting to note that in the history of the UNWTO, African has not had an opportunity toprovide a Secretary General while Europe has held the post on three occasions, the Americas once and thecurrent one, Dr Taleb Rifai is from Jordan in the Middle East. It is therefore imperative that in the next electionin May, the world is highly expected to show magnanimity recognizing an unofficial principle of rotation so thatit allows other regions to provide a candidate to the organization going forward. Dr Walter Mzembi that the
African Union have endorsed, is a pragmatic man who comes with his craft competences and his commitmentis undoubted. Over the years, he has demonstrated humility, willingness to learn from the current Secretarygeneral and indeed, has reached out to all the Six UNWTO Regional Commissions that has given him deepinsight of the critical issues that need redress across the globe to make tourism work for everyone. The is an adage that says, charity begins at home and he has shown clear vision and taken practical steps in championing the creation of a common visa in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region by being the fulcrum anchoring the debate and call for seamless travel as a way of facilitating tourism, trade and investment as he says “all things start with travel in the Travel-Travel- Invest matrix.” Over and above that he is an ardent advocate of the “open skies policies” as he is fully aware that 54% of international arrivals realized in 2015, reached their destination by air hence it is critical to prioritize and allow destination accessibility and seamless movement of people as quickly as is possible. His philosophy in opening up not only in Africa, but across the globe is a sound pragmatic proposition that resonates with his vision which ultimately facilitate regional growth of tourism with equity. The Univisa that Dr Mzembi signed allows visitors from 65 countries to travel between Zimbabwe and Zambia using the same document, and the announcement and signing of the agreement was welcomed by the tourism fraternity.
In his remarks, Dr Mzembi said “I am delighted for this privilege to make history. All of us are here because ofour commitment to see a definitive seamless travel between the two countries and indeed, the whole Kavangogreat Vision by the leaders of the two countries to have seamless travel because the Agreement had takentime to be concluded. He said, this will not happen again in the future. He reminded other Ministers presentthat the world is fast becoming a more open global village in terms of travel openness, and key among the enablers is visa liberalization globally and open skies.
According to the Africa Visa Openness Report published by the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) in 2016, Southern Africa was lagging behind in the visa openness index. The same report notes that 75% of countries in the top 20 most visa-open countries are in West Africa and East Africa. It is not by coincidence that the East
Africa Common Tourist Visa involving Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya has seen 25% growth in tourist arrivals in the past year. The three East African countries have popularized their destinations as a collective at Travel Shows, and one good example was at the World Travel Market-2016 held in London. Currently, Rwanda’s leading economic pillar is tourism owing to its visa openness. With Zimbabwe and Zambia back in the fold of increasing their visa openness, the index of the two countries on travel facilitation is likely to improve.
Hon Dr Mzembi reminded people and colleague Ministers present that there was no magic in tourism than opening up the destination. He cited the Christian Bible Isiah 60:11 “Keep thy Gates open, do not close them during the day, do not close them during the night so you may enjoy the wealth of the Gentiles with their Kings in triumphal procession” as the philosophical foundation guiding tourism destinations so that they may enjoy the wealth of other countries. He further reminded delegates of the triumphal processions from 1 Kings 10 (1 -3), and quoted the Queen of Sheba when visiting King Solomon “Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan (convoy) – with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold and precious stones”.
“This is the wealth referred to by Isiah, which many of the tourists who visit destinations carry, arriving with money that they spend in destinations. But, what is key is that the Queen of Sheba went on to endorse the destination reminiscing about her experiences, and she says “The report I heard in my own country about your own achievements and your wisdom is true” said Dr Mzembi.
Manifest to this, is the testimony of the 20 th Session of the UNWTO General Assembly hosted by the two countries, which bid Dr Mzembi together with Zambia were at the forefront and won to host the event in Livingstone and Victoria Falls in 2013 where delegates were surprised and charmed by the Hospitality, the Peace, Security, pristine flora and fauna of the destinations, which today remain a huge competitive edge as far as tourism in the sub-region is concerned. By signing the KAZA Univisa Agreement for a permanent common visa, the two countries have taken giant steps to deliberately open up to boost tourism arrivals.
In Africa, Ghana, has completely opened up to African nationals who receive visas on arrival following thefootsteps of Rwanda that did the same in 2014. The African Union also launched the African Passport in July 2016, Kigali, Rwanda at the 27 th African Union Summit Heads of State and Government Summit, which, at that level, also endorsed Hon Dr Walter Mzembi as its UNWTO Candidate for the post of Secretary General. Thus,visa openness and the move towards a common passport are key milestones that should give Africa hope to integrate. The idea of an Africa with seamless borders is the way to go. Africa is endowed with vast natural resources including wildlife, unrivalled tourism products, minerals and rich soils, but its performance has been fluctuating at a paltry 3-5% according to the UNWTO. If Africa can combine its strengths, it has huge potential to unlock value of the tourism for revenue generation since tourism is a low hanging fruit, and some of the structural reforms needed is destination openness that Hon Dr Mzembi is championing.
During the same meeting, Hon Mzembis said “If we have set our minds on leveraging tourism for rebuildingand recovery of our economies, we must do so unabated. Tourism is the lowest hanging fruit ready for picking.