Hebert Zharare and Fidelis Munyoro
CANADA is pulling out of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation in protest over President Mugabe’s appointment as a special tourism ambassador.
Zimbabwe yesterday said Canada’s pullout was inconsequential because it was a “small player in the global tourism industry”.
Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said the President’s appointment as an international tourism ambassador symbolised “what is wrong with the UN”.
President Mugabe and his Zambian counterpart Michael Sata were appointed tourism ambassadors by the UNWTO office this week as their countries are co-hosting the UNWTO general assembly in August next year.
Peeved by the appointment and Zimbabwe’s co-hosting of the assembly, Mr Baird told the Canadian House of Commons yesterday
that the move was “outrageous” and announced that Canada “is withdrawing” from the tourism body next month.
President Mugabe, Mr Sata and UNWTO head Dr Taleb Rifai on Tuesday signed the historic trilateral host agreement for the body’s 2013 general assembly in Victoria Falls.
Mr Rifai gave the two leaders open letters urging them to support tourism in their countries.
Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe and Zambia border was named the official destination for the 20th UNWTO holiday conference in South Korea last October.
Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Walter Mzembi said Canada’s decision will not affect progress made so far in Zimbabwe and Zambia.
“It shows the convulsions in their foreign policy and the way they communicate in their government.
“Their minister was supposed to tell them about the decision of the UNWTO 19th session in South Korea.
“When the UNWTO during its last 19th session unanimously voted for Zimbabwe and Zambia to co-host the 20th session of the UNWTO in Africa, Canada was present and did not object.
“Our bid was an African bid. By doing this today they are inviting the wrath of Africa.
“It is confronting Africa and should be ready to bear the consequences . . . it ceased to be a Zimbabwean affair,” he said.
Minister Mzembi said Canada was trying to politicise the tourism sector by objecting to President Mugabe’s appointment.
“No one can doubt that President Mugabe has done a lot for the tourism sector than anyone else in the world.
“He has recognised tourism as a pillar of the economy and has dedicated a ministry to deal with that,” he said.
“They want to take advantage of the Mugabe brand to be on the global map.
“Does Canada capture your imagination? We do not even use their currency.
“It is not a player in the sector. It wants to leverage on the Mugabe brand.
“If they want to withdraw, let’s go ahead. They will not be the first to withdraw because countries such as the US and Britain are not members,” he said.
Minister Mzembi said the Europeans have already imposed sanctions on African tourism by charging exorbitant departure fees for airlines connecting to Africa.
The Europeans want to enjoy alone the over US$1,2 trillion generated by the tourism sector.
Minister Mzembi said Canada was taking a cue from Britain that made it clear that it was against President Mugabe’s appointment as a tourism ambassador.
He, however, said Zimbabwe regarded this as a major diplomatic coup.
Minister Mzembi said Zimbabwe was now a “co-pilot in the cockpit of global tourism,” as buttressed by the country’s appointment to lead some tourism bodies.
“Tourism is busting sanctions. However, others are not recognising that. I made it very clear during the signing of the Trilateral Agreement in Victoria Falls,” he said.
Zimbabwe Tourism Authority chief executive Mr Karikoga Kaseke said Zimbabwe will not lose sleep over Canada’s withdrawal from the UN body.
“It’s quite surprising. I can’t believe that a country can withdraw from the UN body over the appointment of President Mugabe,” he said.
Mr Kaseke, however, said Canada’s decision to pull out of the UN body will not stop other members of the UN from going ahead with the international event.
“We will hold the event without them. It’s unfortunate, we can’t help it but it does not worry us at all,” said Mr Kaseke.
Zimbabwe and Zambia’s bid was described as the only serious, complete and comprehensive one compared to the ones put up by Russia, Turkey, Jordan and Qatar.
The magnificent event will bring at least 176 countries to Victoria Falls, the largest world gathering of countries in Zimbabwe since the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Meeting held in the resort town, about two decades ago.
The hosting will be the biggest endorsement of the new brand, “Zimbabwe a World of Wonders” and a serious enabler of the tourism and hospitality industries.