Nick Mangwana View From the Diaspora
Travel and tourism is a huge part of Zimbabwe’s economy. In fact, it is one of the biggest contributors to Zimbabwe’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), rivalled by Diaspora remittances.
So, it really is the goose that lays the golden eggs and as such there should be a close relationship between this sector and the security sector.
But recent police practice in Zimbabwe is the exact opposite of being supportive to the industry.
The industry and travelling public now consider police roadblocks and attendant behaviour a menace.
This is nothing new as it has happened elsewhere. The reader might not have heard much about a town in southern Mozambique called Ponta do Ouro.
This town relies so much on tourism as the source of livelihood and economic activity.
Police in this town became a nuisance, demanding bribes from tourists and harassing them. The local business and community leaders met up with the police and in their engagement a solution was found.
In other tourist cities like Venice there are regular meetings between the police and local businesses. If a tourist falls victim to some criminal behaviour, it is a big deal within the community and local business because they know the effect it will have on their livelihoods.
There is a forum for engagement between the police and the community. There is a clear recognition that if you combat crime, you promote tourism.
So, the police all over the world are a big factor in the tourism sector. This is because besides expenses, one of the first considerations of a tourist before visiting a place is security, at the heart of which is the police.
Before the reader starts to wonder what all this is about, let me bring it closer to home.
In its pursuit of the Zim-Asset Cluster on Infrastructure Utilities, the Government invested $150 million in the refurbishment and expansion of Victoria Falls Airport.
This was expected to boost the capacity to handle large numbers of passengers to as much as 1,5 million a year.
This is an airport which clearly was built as an economic activity enabler. The construction of the airport employed a lot of people. Now the airport itself is employing people providing a service.
So, yes, Government has created jobs. Not all the 2,2 million, but it did create a lot of jobs and is still creating some more.
To prove the economic efficacy of the decision to upgrade this airport, airlines have been making a beeline to launch a new destination called Victoria Falls International Airport.
RwandAir is one such example, Ethiopian Airways has been advertising the launch of an Addis Ababa to Victoria Falls flight. Recently, Kenyan Airways also launched direct flights from Nairobi to Victoria Falls, boosting inter-Africa tourism.
This is exactly an example of Zim-Asset paying dividends.
When the Kenyan Airways flight was arriving, the chief executive of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, Karikoga Kaseke, complained that he had encountered four roadblocks on the way from Victoria Falls town to the airport, a 21km stretch, and they delayed him.
On reading these remarks the feel good factor that accompanies these success stories evaporated. The question that came to mind was whether the State was fighting itself or whether we had silos in Government?
Is there a congruence of objectives between different departments? Are the police and tourism authorities (ZTA) working together?
The opening examples clearly demonstrated how businesses and communities can work together with the police because police behaviour can have a negative impact on tourism.
Let us protect the goose that’s laying the golden eggs.
We just need one tourist to be held by police, miss their flight and blog about it to have our reputation up in smoke. Too many roadblocks on our roads give an impression of an unsafe place.
Normally, police visibility is reassuring to the public, but in our case the police visibility is a menace that is giving the impression of an insecure place.
How does one even try to justify four checkpoints on a 21km distance? What really are they looking for? Let our security and checkpoints be intelligence-led rather than the current scenario which is antagonistic to the tourists and travelling public?
Our country has suffered from misconception and misperception causing a reputational nightmare. Tourists are our way of demonstrating that the caricature of a lawless jungle that is portrayed in hostile media is just that.
This sector gives us an opportunity to showcase the real Zimbabwe.
Now, is the real Zimbabwe the one where police are not considered a reassuring factor, but a social plague on the road? Please don’t hate the mirror, just look in it with sincerity. When a traveller sees a “Police Ahead” sign on the road do they feel secure or vulnerable?
Zimbabwe has not suffered a major terrorism attack due to the security services, the tranquil of its citizens and luck.
So, why then must there be incessant roadblocks if not for police roadside corruption?
The institutions are meant to assure tourists and the travelling public should not continue to act as a social ill. This is how they are perceived when one is flagged down by an officer brandishing a menacing makeshift stinger (spike strip).
If one chooses to pay a formal fine for that alleged albeit petty infraction of the road, they are punished by having their licence held on to and they are asked to wait forever until they have to relent by offering a bribe.
One is punished for offering to pay a proper admission of guilt fine by being made to park by the roadside and ignored forever.
They can’t drive off because the police officer is holding on to their licence.
Now, imagine travelling between Victoria Falls and the airport going to catch a flight, what would they do? They just pay the bribe and go on their way, but they will write adverse reviews later.
Tourists always do this and other tourists will read and most likely make an equally adverse decision from it.
The police are struggling to build social trust. Not many children would ask the police for directions these days because if they are not carrying menacing gadgets, they are just plain rude and overbearing.
Or the children always hear their parents complaining of the scourge of police on the road.
Are the police in Zimbabwe detached from the link between their work and the prospects of our country? If so, they should be taught to appreciate that security of a nation or its citizens has to start with the financial security of that country.
Once financial security is established, everything else becomes easy.
Maybe let’s start with the officers that work in resort towns. They need some courses in Tourism Appreciation before they are deployed.
Once that is done they become stakeholders in the local economy. They will then behave like the police in Mozambique and those in Venice.
It is a tragedy that we are talking of the negative impact of the police on tourism when we should be talking of the negative impact of crime on tourism and how the police help to ameliorate the problem.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) has a public relations problem. Even the most ardent pro-establishment individual only needs to drive somewhere and get very inconvenienced by the police on the road and they will change their views.
Their roadside behaviour cannot be defended.
The police need to be more accountable to the community they serve. Right now they don’t give two hoots about how the community feels or perceives them.
Travellers have an expectation of protection from the law enforcement institutions. They expect some little inconvenience in the delivery of that security.
But there is no expectation of what is tantamount to harassment in the pursuit of extra-fiscal revenues.
If the economy is promoted, the net effect is that money would not be so scarce, and enhancing tourism is promoting the economy.
Let us give the travelling public a good travel experience. Let our roads showcase what our country is really about. Our country is not a police state, it’s a full-blown democracy. Let each of its institutions paint that image.
Responsibility of a positive self-image is not just the responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is the responsibility of every citizen, especially those in official positions and the institutions for which they work.
The police have not pulled their weight in this regard. Their role with United Nations bodies and external missions is noted and acknowledged. But there their public relations breakthroughs begin and end.
If we were to give an award for institutional “anti-social behaviour”, the ZRP would surely scoop it. This is because anti-social behaviour is widely defined as, “acting in a manner that is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons”.
Who can say they don’t get any of these sensations when they run into one police checkpoint after another, with marauding police brandishing makeshift stingers in their hands poised to shred car tyres for minor and contrived infractions?