At a gala dinner event hosted in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa Wednesday night, by Dr Walter Mzembi – Zimbabwe’s Tourism Minister and the African Union endorsed candidate for the post of UNWTO Secretary General – the current and outgoing Secretary General, Dr Taleb Rifai, heaped praise on the youthful Zimbabwean minister, applauding his professionalism as well as the conduct and focus of his election campaign.
Going further, Dr. Rifai lauded the Minister for the outstanding contribution he has made, by way of his diplomatic outreach program, towards enhancing the image and overall country brand of his native Zimbabwe.
“Whatever happens in May (the month in which the UNWTO election will take place), for me you are already a winner….you have already won, “ said Rifai.
“What you have done and what you have achieved, diplomatically, for your country as you have traversed the world on your campaign program is simply unprecedented”, noted the outgoing Secretary General.
The dinner, held under the auspices of the 59th session of the UNWTO’s Regional Commission for Africa – chaired by Minister Mzembi – was attended by African tourism ministers, African Ambassadors accredited to the African Union and Ambassadors of all UNWTO Executive Council member states.
Apart from Dr. Rifai, other UNWTO guests included Executive Directors and the Regional Director for Africa, Ms. Elcia Grandcourt.
Also in attendance was Mr. Wei Hongtao, Vice Chairman of the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA), who had traveled to Addis Ababa to participate in the first ever High-Level Meeting on Chinese Outbound Tourism to Africa.
The AU Commission was represented by Deputy Chairperson Dr. Kwasi Quartey, of Ghana, who, like Rifai, was fulsome in his praise for the Zimbabwean Minister.
Urging Africa to remain fully united in its support of the candidate unanimously endorsed by all 54 African Heads of State and Government, Dr Quartey predicted victory at the forthcoming election, enthusing that with his qualifications, professional experience and his very evident passion for tourism, Walter Mzembi would serve UNWTO with distinction, completely justifying the faith and confidence reposed in him by the entirety of Africa’s political leadership.
In his presentation, Dr. Mzembi also appealed for a unity of purpose and action as he reminded guests that no African has held the UNWTO post since the inception of the organization in 1957.
Urging his African colleagues not to fall prey to the blandishments and machinations of others determined to divide Africa and undermine the prospects of an African victory, Dr Mzembi invoked the determination of African leaders to overhaul the entire United Nations system – specifically the Security Council where Africa, constituting the largest bloc of member states still has no permanent representation.
African leaders have long pushed for a fairer and more equitable international system, one which accords Africa its rightful place and which recognizes the right of capable, competent and qualified Africans to be deployed to leadership positions within that system.
Mzembi said that his bid for leadership of the UNWTO, and the resounding endorsement he had received from Africa’s leaders was fully aligned to that noble objective.
Also in the race for the UNWTO job are Ms. Doh Young-shim from South Korea, Mr. Marcio Favilla from Brazil, Mr. Zurab Pololikashivili from Georgia, Mr. Jaime Alberto Cabal Sanclemente from Colombia, and Mr. Alain St Ange from Seychelles.
It is understood that Mr. St Ange – a late entrant to the race – is coming under intense pressure from African Tourism Ministers to withdraw therefrom and to cast his support behind Mzembi.
A seventh candidate, Mr. Vahan Martirosyan, of Armenia, who entered the contest the day before the March 11 deadline for nominations, is reported to have since withdrawn his name.
The election is set to take place in Madrid, on 11 and 12 May, during the 105th meeting of the UNWTO Executive Council.
The election will produce a Secretary General-elect, whose name will then be submitted to the next Session of the UNWTO General Assembly, scheduled to take place in mid-September in the Chinese city of Chengdu.
The new Secretary General will assume his or her office at the UNWTO Headquarters in Madrid on 1 January 2018, for an initial mandate of 4 years, renewable once.
If Mzembi succeeds in his bid, he will be the first Zimbabwean national to lead a UN Agency.