Africa’s man for the world: Why Hon. Eng. Dr. Walter Mzembi?

Today the Hon. Eng. Dr. Walter Mzembi made his emotional case why he wanted to be the next Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

Mr. Mzembi looked pleased when he was able to make his case in a packed room after a busy day at FITUR in Madrid.

This is a transcript of his presentation.

Your Excellencies; Honorable Ministers; Ambassadors and Members of the Diplomatic Corps; a very special salutation to His Excellency, Dr Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the UNWTO; UNWTO Executive Directors here present; Distinguished Members of the Media here present; Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen:

First of all, allow me to thank you, very sincerely, for being here this evening as I officially launch my candidature for the post of Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

It is an honour and a privilege that several countries and institutions have encouraged me to stand for this post, and I am humbled at the faith and confidence they have expressed in my ability, vision and passion for tourism as a vehicle for development and transformation.

I am more than convinced that, if given the opportunity to lead this important body within the broad United Nations family, and with the support of all UNWTO member states, I can forge ahead with my Ten Point Plan and will make a significant and positive impact upon global tourism.

I am resolute in my commitment to transforming livelihoods through tourism and to contributing to the attainment of some of the key goals of the UNTWO and the UN in general.

For me, today is the culmination of an eight year journey, that began with my deployment, in February 2009, as the Minister of Tourism and the Hospitality Industry for the Republic ofZimbabwe. It was an assignment which threw me literally into the deep end of adversity at a time when, in the wake of serious disagreement with some influential members of the international community over our agrarian reform programme, my country was draped with blanket negative travel advisories and faced an unprecedented degree of isolation within the broad community of nations.

Zimbabwe was most topical in global mainstream media for perceived good and bad reasons, but, as always, it was the bad news which made the front pages.

After a sustained re-engagement and rebranding effort, I and my team managed to transform the Zimbabwe tourism economy from the US$ 200 million per annum which I inherited when I took office, to the US$ 1 billion plus status we enjoy today : and, we managed to achieve that with virtually nothing by way of funding. It was overwhelmingly by way of creative thinking and a collective re-branding effort.

So much so that the February 2015 Edition of the New York Times’ 52 Global Must Visit Report, ranked Zimbabwe 14 on its “attractiveness index” and anointed my country as a “ once avoided, now a must-see destination”.

This is the same destination that, in August 2013 and together with Zambia, co- hosted the 20th Session of the UNWTO General Assembly.

The hosting was famously described at the time by the current Secretary General, Dr Taleb Rifai, as “ the best attended ever General Assembly in the history of General Assemblies”.

As I speak, the American luxury and lifestyle travel magazine – Conde Nast Traveler – in its listing of the 17 best places to visit in 2017, described Zimbabwe as Africa’s best destination, listing us at number 13, followed by Rwanda at number 14. Canada topped this prestigious ranking – and we are proud and indeed gratified to be classified amongst the world’s very best.

This is but the latest of numerous international accolades and endorsements bestowed upon Zimbabwe in the wake of our focused and sustained re-branding thrust : a thrust which turned adversity into opportunity, negative energy into positive, and which successfully leveraged the country’s amazing tourism product to develop an infinitely more positive, more enticing narrative.

And so, as we launch my candidature, I and my team take pride in the work we have done, and in the progress we have made : and we take pride in the clean bill of travel health enjoyed by destination Zimbabwe and in our unbroken 33 year tourist-safety record. Both of which contributed to the resounding global endorsement manifested in the holding of the 2013 UNWTO General Assembly at the Victoria Falls. On that occasion, literally the world came, saw, and experienced our breathtaking tourism product, enriched by the unparalled warmth and innate hospitality of our people.

Once again, I wish to state that, if given an opportunity to lead the UNTWO, I will direct this same energy, this same passion and this same focus into my new role. And I will bring to the table the experience I have gained in successfully overcoming adversity, in successfully navigating difficult waters and in successfully responding to the complex and challenging circumstances which lie ahead as, together, we look to the future of the Organisation.

In September 2009, during the 19th UNWTO General Assembly in Astana, Kazakhstan, DrTaleb Rifai, then ad- interim, was confirmed as the Secretary General. Attendant to this, it couldn’t escape our memory that the Middle East was taking stewardship of the Organization for the first time.

A chronicle of the Organization records 1957 as the year Robert Lonati a Frenchman,assumed office as the first Secretary General of the International Union of Official Travel Organisations (IUOTO).

His mandate extended to 1974. In 1975, at the conception of what is today the WTO, and as it located to its Headquarters in Madrid, he again took on the mantle of leadership as Secretary General. He is justly credited with being the Grandfather of Global Tourism as we know it today.

However, whether it is IUOTO, WTO or UNWTO, the fact is that Europe has been in the driving seat of global tourism for a record 46 years.

Thereafter, Latin America – in the form of Mexico – headed the Organisation for 8 years. Then, for the past 8 years, we have been led by the Middle East. Neither Africa nor Asia has been accorded this privilege or this responsibility.

Whilst acknowledging and expressing our sincere admiration and gratitude for the leadership and indeed the powerful legacy bequeathed by the afore-mentioned regions, we strongly believe it is now Africa’s time : and, applying the admittedly informal principle of rotational equity that prevails at the United Nations, it is not difficult to see why, to some degree, Africa has this sense of expectation : nor the appeal Africa is making, by way of my nomination and the endorsement I have received by African Heads of State and Government, for the support of all UNWTO members for my candidature.

The conviction that this is indeed Africa’s time, together with a determination to bring to the table a stronger Africa – in terms of significantly improving its current unacceptable 3 to 5% global tourism market-share performance – motivated me to begin to lobby within the Continent itself.

Today I stand before you, nominated by Zimbabwe and endorsed by both SADC and the Africa Union as its official candidate.

The endorsement of African Heads of State and Government came only after a rigourous defence of my candidature and a comprehensive presentation of my vision for the future of the UNWTO before the African Candidatures Committees, which oversees proposals for the deployment of Africans to multilateral and international systems.

Africa is therefore deploying a candidate who it knows is both tried and tested : understanding that this mandate goes well beyond tourism and into unlocking trade and investment opportunities on a win-win basis with the globe as the African Union implements its Agenda 2063, presenting the “ Africa we Want”.

Casa Africa and Investur here in Spain, requires this pedigree of deployment in Capitan Haya Street to unleash the full potential of hitherto unexploited trade and investmentopportunities between Africa and Spain. Europe more broadly and the rest of the worldshould reflect much more on what this candidature could achieve for them within the context of the “Visit, Trade and Invest” concept.

I must state however that, official endorsement as Africa’s candidate for the Secretary General post notwithstanding, you may be approached by one or more aspiring candidatesfrom other African countries.

It is their sovereign right to break ranks with a formal decision of African Heads of State andGovernment. For my part, I stand by the confidence the African Union has placed in meand, recalling the powerful legacy of African international civil servants such as Dr Kofi Annan and Dr Boutros Boutros Ghali – albeit leaders of the mother UN body itself – I know that I can and will deliver and will make both Africa and the UNWTO proud.

The unilateralism we are witnessing is the same unilateralism responsible for much of the mischief and conflict in our world today. Equally an unbridled sense of entitlement that saysit has to be my country or else, cannot preside over global institutions, as it points to gross intolerance.

My candidature is built on passion for tourism, tolerance, unity and transformation and it is my appeal, as I launch my bid to lead the UNWTO, that we cooperate for the common good of humanity, and that we desist from any form of discrimination or division.

We are on borrowed time and future generations cannot be disadvantaged because we have acted selfishly.

Back to my personal journey. After successfully serving in the Executive Council from 2009-2013, Africa asked me, unanimously, to lead it as Chairperson of the UNWTO Regional Commission for Africa, and to drive the agenda for creating greater awareness at the African Union of the need forpolicy consummation and institutionalization of Tourism and its subsequent integration into

Africa’s Agenda 2063 – the continental 50 year vision. I recall Africa unanimously pushing for an automatic re-deployment of the current Secretary General in recognition of the bold stance he had taken to bring the General Assembly to the Victoria Falls – notwithstanding fierce resistance from some Member States, opposed to  Zimbabwe being accorded the honour of hosting the 2013 General Assembly. Indeed, it was from the Zambian end of the Victoria Falls that Dr Rifai’s mandate was so deservedly renewed for another four years.

The clarion call for an African Secretary General was ignited thereon, and, being an ardent believer in sound corporate governance, I stepped down from the Executive Council so as to avoid being conflicted by remaining on the Council whilst pursuing my elective ambitions to lead the Organisation after Taleb Rifai.