VICTORIA FALLS, Zimbabwe (eTN) – The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) General Assembly was declared open Sunday night by President R.G. Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
Robert Gabriel Mugabe is the second and current President of Zimbabwe. As one of the leaders of the national liberation movements against white-minority rule, he was elected as head of government in 1980. Just last month the controversial 89 year old president won another term despite irregularities alleged in the election by many countries around the world.
Below is the transcript of his address to a record number of delegates from 124 countries that attended the opening Sunday night at the legendary Victoria Hotel in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
“His Excellency Mr. Chilufya Sata, president of the Republic of Zambia, The Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization, Dr. Taleb Rifai, members of the diplomatic community, our host ministers of tourism here present and other ministers from the Republics of Zimbabwe and Zambia, delegations and our distinguished guests from the UNWTO family, our traditional leaders, Chief Mvuto and Chief Mukuni, who share the iconic Victoria Falls, captains of the tourism industry, ladies and gentlemen, Comrades and friends, it is my pleasure, indeed an honor for my country, Zimbabwe, to host the UNWTO family tonight and during the next five days.
The hosting of this United Nations Specialized Agency’s General Assembly constitutes for us an important milestone in the economic history of our two countries, Zambia and Zimbabwe and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. We expect to leave an indelible mark on our memories, and that it be part of our generational legacy, marking a clear turning point in the tourism fortunes of our two countries, our regions and indeed our continent.
Mr. Secretary General, your decision to hold this important global event at this destination inspires us in our ongoing and continuous efforts, since the coming into being of the state of Zimbabwe, to maintain friendly relations with the whole international community, even with those countries with which we may not agree on all matters.
The selection of this venue from a number of competing candidates will doubtlessly strengthen our determination to leverage tourism for the economic well-being and advancement of our people in Zambia, Zimbabwe and the whole of Africa. We are enthused by the endorsement of our two countries as worthy hosts of such a meeting, and the recognition of this destination as one that is safe and secure for the world’s tourists.
Following the independence in 1980, Zimbabwe, and as early as 1981, recognized the efficacy of the UNWTO social and economic development strategy, with its emphasis on long-term sustainable growth in less developed economies, aimed, in part at achieving at least three of the Millennium Development Goals.
We remained an active member of the organization until 1999. Unfortunately during the period 2000 to 2008 we faced immense challenges occasioned, in large part, by illegal debilitating sanctions imposed upon us by some sections of the west. These sanctions sadly came hard on the heels of IMF/World Bank’s ill-conceived Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP) that, amongst other negatives, disabled our active participation in bodies like the UNWTO.
Happily in 2009, with the facilitation of SADC and the AU, we formed a government of national unity, the GNU, which led to the somewhat softening of the stances against us on the part of our political and economic detractors.
I am very satisfied that the then newly set up Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry swiftly reactivated our membership of the UNWTO and, with your active support, Secretary General Rifai, proceed to become a very active member of the organization, acquiring a seat on the organization’s Executive Council in the same year.
Since then we have not looked back and, following our successful two-nation bid with Zambia to co-host this session, we find ourselves here tonight. President Sata and I have since signed the Golden Book of tourism, this becoming ambassadors for global tourism – never mind the chagrin of some of our detractors over this matter.
Please let all of you know, that the signing of the golden book of tourism was not a matter of mere ceremony for us, for through that act we recognized the important political and economic role that tourism can play in our two countries and on our continent. We are committed to leveraging this sector as a key driver of our economic growth.
Let me take this opportunity to reiterate Zimbabwe’s commitment to the founding values and principles of the United Nations, notwithstanding our adversity to the hegemonic tendencies of some of the world’s economic and military super-powers who dominate the organization.
We are very satisfied that the United Nations is a vital body for all humanity. We are particularly happy that its specialized agency like UNICEF and the UNWTO have an increasingly important impact on the welfare of mankind.
Dr. Rifai, ladies and gentlemen your organization’s emphasis on sustainable tourism has great resonance with the importance Zimbabwe places on the principles of development with equity and empowerment of the masses.
It is on that basis, that I, without reservation, have my full support to the Zambia-Zimbabwe bid to host this General Assembly. I am very glad that the organization decided to hold the General Assembly here. That gesture attests to the organizations commitment to the development of tourism in Africa.
This indeed, is as it should be. The current situation where Africa only has a four percent share of global tourism revenue, in spite of its massive natural and cultural tourism resources is a matter of great concern to us.
This is especially so when seen in the light in which Secretary General, you highlighted some points in your White Paper of the year 2010. In that paper, you underlined the tourism sector’s resilience during economic hard times, even during global economic distress, and its capacity to alleviate poverty by its inherent positive disposition to community projects that can be led by women and youths. These are of great importance to us.
In this regard, I must conclude by putting on record our appreciation for the assistance that the UNWTO has extended to us this far as a region. This of late included technical support extended to SADC, through RETOSA, whereby the latter has received assistance towards the establishment of a Tourism Satellite Accounting System (TSAS). The TSAS will help us to fully account for the full contribution by tourism to our national and regional GDP.
I also note with great satisfaction that the UNWTO has approved community based initiatives for Zimbabwe, and their Sustainable Tourism for the reduction of poverty (STEP) program will run under the theme “Enhance the participation of youth and women in the tourism sector.”
This is an effective empowering tool which will promote equity and access to tourism revenue. It also resonates resoundingly with the people empowering initiatives that my government is pursuing.
The thematic thrusts you intend to pursue in this conference are summarized by the catch phrases ‘Open borders and open skies, removing hurdles to the growth of tourism in Africa.’ are very apt in our times.
There is no way Africa can increase its portion of the global tourism cake without first promoting intra- African travel. Indeed connectivity of African cities, regions and attraction augurs well for growing Africa’s share, as it serves, ultimately, to integrate the African tourism product and its marketing and promotion, which in turn makes it more attractive to the long haul traveler than is the case now.
The need for open borders, through regional block visa regimes, which we are trying to implement at UNIVISA through RETOSA, will not only allow easier travel amongst SADC citizens, it will make it easier for the long haul intercontinental visitor and investor.
IT is very critical that Africa evolves strategies that effectively lure tourists to the continent. This assumes even greater importance in view of Europe’s effort to keep the tourism dollars within the Euro Zones, by imposing punitive airport departure taxes for its intercontinental travelers.
The type of seamless border between Livingstone town and Victoria Falls town that has been put in place for purpose of this conference should become the rule rather than the exception, for all adjacent touristic border communities throughout SADC, and ultimately throughout Africa. Africa can only benefit from increasingly behaving like a single common market.”
Comrade President Sata, it is my fervent hope that the dream and vision of the founders of independent Africa, of a United States of Africa will become a reality one day sooner rather than later.
Events like this one, Secretary General, which you have constructed and positioned as ‘A uniquely African General Assembly,’ may be small, but critical in the realization of an integrated economic-political entity called Africa.
Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you to the Victoria Falls and wish you the best in your deliberation and resolution. Please do enjoy our truly African hospitality. Here you will every morning wake up to the chirping of our birds and the aura of the African sun, and at the end of each day go to sleep under the star-filled African sky.
With these remarks I declare the 20th Session of the UNWTO General Assembly officially opened.”