Isdore Guvamombe in MADRID, Spain
TODAY is the big day. Never, since the inception of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation in 1975, has the election of a Secretary General generated so much interest.
And again never in the 42-year history of the organisation has an African held the post of secretary general.
All eyes are on the Sadc and African Union candidate Dr Walter Mzembi, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, to score a first for Africa.
Today, the executive council of the UNWTO turns into an electoral college at Melia Castilla, a stone’s throw from the organisation’s headquarters, to pick from five candidates the man or woman who will lead the Organisation for the next four years, with a possibility of a second term.
Melia Castilla is a luxurious seven-star hotel in central Madrid, befitting the flamboyance that goes with tourism and hospitality industry and therefore a good venue for the election for the world’s biggest tourism job.
Dr Mzembi goes into battle to succeed outgoing Secretary General Dr Takib Rifai, knowing fully well that tourism is no longer simply tourism, but big business with an array of interests among social and political interests. The other candidates are from Brazil, Georgia, South Korea and Colombia.
Dr Mzembi carries the hopes of Africa, having been blessed by both Sadc and the African Union as sole candidate.
Today marks the culmination of two years of intense campaigns by all five candidates. By last night all had been set for the election, the tone of which was set by outgoing UNWTO Secretary General Dr Rifai at the mid-morning official opening.
With the African Union rallying behind him, Dr Mzembi who is viewed by many in the word tourism family as a unifier, eloquent, astute and visionary, gets the much needed head start of 10 African votes. Of course there could be one or two spoilers.
Dr Mzembi’s journey to the candidature started with his nomination by the Government of Zimbabwe and was subsequently followed by an endorsement by the Sadc region and then the African Union.
Dr Mzembi was appointed Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister in 2009 and immediately found his way in the UNWTO executive council, from where he has turned around the fortunes of tourism in Zimbabwe and Africa.
The climax was winning the bid to co-host with Zambia, the UNWTO general assembly in 2013, becoming the first time that the assembly was held in southern Africa, and the second ever on African soil, after Senegal became the first African country to host in 2007.
To date, Dr Mzembi, who apparently, is one of the longest serving tourism ministers in the UNWTO, still sits in the executive council as the chair of the UNWTO Commission for Africa.
He is credited for institutionalizing tourism in the African Union, which had long overlooked tourism as a critical factor in economic and social cohesion and development.
Since the inception of UNWTO in 1975, no African has held the top position and if he wins, Dr Mzembi will score a first.