SEVERAL African countries are reportedly piling pressure on “renegade” Seychelles candidate, Alaine St Ange, to withdraw from the race for the post of secretary-general of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) to pave way for Zimbabwe and African Union’s candidate, Walter Mzembi.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
Mzembi, Zimbabwe’s Tourism minister, faces St Ange in elections scheduled for May 12.
Mzembi’s campaign manager and senior permanent secretary in President Robert Mugabe’s Office, Stuart Comberbach, told journalists in Harare yesterday that pressure was mounting on St.Ange to withdraw from the race.
“We were in Ethiopia last week and the AU (African Union) reassured us that Dr Mzembi is the continent’s man for the UNWTO. The AU deputy chairperson made an impassioned plea to African countries that will vote at the May 12 election to honour the continent’s commitment and endorsement of minister Mzembi,” he said.
Comberbach added that some 17 countries had called for an urgent meeting with St Ange to try and impress upon him the need for a single candidate from the continent.
“The ministers came together and invited the Seychelles candidate pleading with him to withdraw. To date, though, nothing positive has come of it, but the lobbying continues and anything can happen in the next 12 days. The ministers also undertook to write directly to the African Union chairperson on the issue so that the continental body can engage that country at that level,” the career diplomat said.
Ironically, the Seychelles was among Sadc countries that endorsed Mzembi at a Foreign Affairs ministers’ meeting in Botswana in March last year before he made an inexplicable volte-face later.
Mzembi was upbeat on his chances declaring his readiness to lead the transformation of global tourism. The Tourism minister paid tribute to government support, Sadc, the AU for institutional and financial support during a gruelling 12-month campaign and incumbent UNWTO secretary-general Taleb Rifai for “laying a firm foundation that we now hope to build on”.
“We hope and pray for a clean election run-in because there seems to be a disturbing trend of candidates playing dirty and to the gallery. We are attempting to make history and are confident that we will present Africa’s first representative at the global body.
There is no need to compete each other to death because after this bilateral relations must continue. Africans will need each other going forward,” Mzembi said.
“This is a competition for brands and it cuts deeper than the tourism rhetoric.”
Reports indicate St Ange has been trying to use Zimbabwe’s political standoff with some parts of the West to decampaign Mzembi. St Ange is said to have reacted angrily to the AU’s calls for him to withdraw.
“The AU has never imposed Zimbabwe on Africa, they endorsed them and the democratic right of Member States is to choose who they want.
The UN remains a democratic institution and we all need to respect this. The Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) with four African Union Members on their part endorsed Seychelles,” St Ange was quoted as having said in an unsolicited attack on his rival.
St Ange is also said to have wildly claimed to be working with opposition parties and civil society in Zimbabwe. However, a confident Mzembi called on Zimbabweans to find each other for a final assault on the top job and thanked the opposition in the country for backing him.
He pointed to Zimbabwe’s successful hosting of the UNWTO general assembly in 2013 as indication of the country’s readiness to lead at “the highest level”.