We stand a very good chance, says Mzembi
Tichaona Zindoga: THE INTERVIEW
Zimbabwe’s candidate for the post of United Nations World Tourism Organisation secretary-general which falls vacant in May, Tourism and Hospitality Minister Walter Mzembi, has just hit the homestretch on his shuttle diplomacy to win what may so far become the country’s most important diplomatic position. Last week, he officially launched his bid in the Spanish capital, Madrid. He speaks to The Herald’s Political Editor Tichaona Zindoga (TZ) on this foray and his chances to land the seat.
TZ: What was the response and atmosphere in Madrid as you officially launched your ambitious bid?
WM: The response was massive and we had the right people in the room, the current secretary-general, whom I respect so much and is almost a mentor to a degree, was in the room together with his wife who has almost become friends with my wife. The former secretary-general Francesco Frangialli was also in the room. I applaud these two men for coming to listen.
TZ: And these campaigns at multilateral level, someone was pointing out, they require a lot of funding. Would you say you are well heeled to undertake this? How has it been in terms of financing?
WM: Well, we have challenges in our economy. I am being supported to the extent that the economy and fiscus can support. But it’s very stressful because everything is done last minute. If it’s travelling, everything is done last minute so it undermines the efficacy of my planning.
If I had a fund ring-fenced for the purpose, I would not worry about credit managing myself to people who would have provided service then coming to follow their money through me.
I would focus on selling my vision and selling my message. Inevitably we are going to have problems anywhere with funding as we learned in the last UNWTO exercise; the hosting of the general assembly.
We had to fall back on the private sector and well-wishers to put up the act that we eventually did. I am happy to share with you that an exercise has been initiated by the Minister of Finance himself where he has written out to the industries, mainly to the liquid sort of companies, your telecommunication companies, to support this campaign.
But I hope that they also find it in their goodwill to support reasonably so that we focus on the main task. This is a national exercise. I never imagined that it would be supported by the fiscus 100 percent without the support of citizenry either private sector, entrepreneurial or otherwise.
Even a like on a Facebook post for me it’s support. It doesn’t have to be material or cash, just a like on Twitter, Facebook. All those things I count them because they are very important in terms of the spiritual and moral support for a campaign of this nature. So we don’t just acknowledge even spiritual and goodwill will also be acknowledged.
It was never designed that we will get a totality of the funding from Treasury. However, that notwithstanding, because this is a national project with our national pride at stake, I want to think that it will be prioritised within the mind of the Treasury as an important project.
The President is 100 percent with me on this one. In fact, I met with him in Bamako and he really empathised with the report that I gave him about the frustrations that I’m going through doing things last minute and he directed the people in the room to say that what we need to do is to ring-fence what the minister requires so that we focus on this duo-political contest because it is important to him, it’s important to the nation, it is important to this Government.
It will be a very good precursor I think going into the future if we can win and administer one of the UN agencies. It’s good diplomacy, it basically puts me as it stands now, as the face of Zimbabwe and African diplomacy together with other candidates on the African side.
But for Zimbabwe, it makes the face of diplomacy as it stands because it’s taking me to all the world’s capitals. I am received at the highest levels, presidential, prime ministerial, foreign affairs and I can’t recall a day when I focused on tourism alone.
In fact, I have never been asked on anything about tourism; it is issues to do with the political environment in Zimbabwe, business conditions and so forth that I have to respond to in terms of questions that are raised by various stakeholders and constituencies that I am visiting.
TZ: It’s just about three months to go. What chances do you have, especially in securing the consensus of other countries and regions?
WM: We still stand a very good chance because vices like racism, ethnicism, regionalism they belong to the past. I think the civilised world is more sold to the vision than to these selfish vices that used to win in the wars in the past, that used to win battles in the past, that used to win elections in the past.
The world is more sold out to vision than those vices and I still believe that I have a far much more superior vision for the organisation than any of the candidates that I have actually had the privilege to either listen to or read their propositions for the UNWTO.
TZ: Lastly don’t you feel burdened sometimes by this tag that Zimbabwe has as some kind of noose around your neck?
WM: Well, Jesus came from Nazareth and he actually became the saviour and today nearly two billion people follow the Christian faith. But if you go into the Bible you will see that there was a time when Nathaniel asked Phillip that can anything good come from Nazareth and Phillip said “come and see”.
The taste of the pudding is in the eating. I’m sure people who contested of my colour and race met similar experiences. The Kofi Annans, the Boutros Boutros-Ghalis, the Barack Obamas. They met similar experiences but today we see people celebrating them, missing them, calling for third term in case of Obama for instance.
There has always been this cry for Kofi Annan’s bar of leadership in the United Nations. But when these people were running for office, they were dismissed with the same disdain that I also face today. So the taste of the pudding is really in the eating.
I have a very excellent craft competency record not just in this country, but globally. I have stayed long enough to see ministers come and go. As I speak to you I am the third longest-serving tourism minister in the world, the longest serving in Africa.
So my candidature brings with it not just experience, but longevity and core continuity that is so necessary for global tourism because of the high rate of attrition of tourism ministers; they don’t stay.
I can tell you in my nine years as minister I have seen hundreds of ministers come and go, including in the region. I have worked with an average of two, three, or four ministers from SADC during my tenure. So I provide that core continuity of experience, existential experience that is so necessary in the reform and renewal of this organisation.