UN World Tourism Summit in a contested political environment

On 26 August 2013, more than 500 diplomats from over 150 countries are visiting Victoria Falls, a UN World Heritage Site, in Zimbabwe for a UN backed conference. According to a Report by Jerome Starkey in Victoria Falls, and Jan Raath in Harare, the British government will not be sending any representatives to this conference

Walter Mzembi
Walter Mzembi

The conference comes in the midst of a very difficult and highly contested political environment. However given the importance of this conference to Zimbabwe’s tourism industry, the question that arises is whether Britain has adopted the correct course of action in the circumstances? The broader question is whether the summit makes sense in the current environment? By not attending, is Britain underestimating the importance of tourism within the public diplomacy field?

Tourism diplomacy can work either way. Firstly, tourism shapes perceptions of others and in this regard it is very clear that Zimbabwe’s Tourism Minister, Walter Mzembi will use this summit for perception management and to impact public diplomacy and nation branding in efforts to attract foreign visitors. In a recent Report, he was quoted as saying, “There was a sense in the United Nations that we needed help to come back into the family of nations from a place of isolation.” However, on other hand, what signal is the Summit sending to the world in light of the current political environment? Specifically, is this event not goign to be adiplomatic coup for President Mugabe, who won a seventh term in office last week, amid reports of fraud?

These are all very difficult questions to answer but in our humble view, these questions can be addressed firstly by looking at precedent from elsewhere as well as the Zimbabwean Government’s attitude towards the international community and finally by looking a the current situation.

The first lesson can be drawn from the current bilateral diplomatic stand-off between Washington and Kremlin. In a rare diplomatic rebuke, U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday cancelled his Moscow summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the Snowden fall out. President Obama said it wouldn’t make sense to go ahead with the Summit under the current difficult environment. Some congressional lawmakers are calling for Obama to not only scrub the Moscow summit but also demand that Russia forfeit its right to host the G-20 summit. Others have spoken of boycotting next year's Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi. However President Obama is of the view that the lower-level meetings with Russia underscore that the U.S. cannot completely sever ties with the Kremlin, ‘Given the U.S. role in an increasingly interdependent global economy’.

The second rung of the enquiry would involve probing Zimbabwe’s attitude towards the international community. On 17 July 2013, after the launch of the Sadc Electoral Observer Mission (Seom) to Zimbabwe in Harare, Zimbabwe’s foreign Minister , said, “We have not invited any nation which imposed sanctions on us, so the EU will not be part of the observers. “They should totally remove all sanctions if they are genuine about re-engagement.”

On 2 August 2013, Patrick Chinamasa, the Justice Minister, in suggesting that the election result was a historic vindication of Mugabe and defeat of the West, and proof that Zanu PF was right about everything from human rights to seizures of white-owned farms, said “As far as Zanu PF is concerned, we have never refused to talk to them. It was Tony Blair and Gordon Brown who refused to talk to our president over a decolonisation issue to do with the land question.”

Chinamasa had visited the UK on 26 March and told the Africa minister, Mark Simmonds, that “When you are ready, if you are able to deal with your British public opinion which you poisoned through demonization of our president for no basis through lying that we were in violation of human rights, if you are able to think that politically you are now ready to engage us, you will find our doors open. Basically, you know where to find us.”. Speaking on sanctions he said, “These are not from the UN, they are just from a club of white people who just don’t like the fact that we are repossessing our land … The sanctions are illegal and they should be lifted yesterday, not tomorrow.”

In April, Zimbabwe temporarily refused entry in to Zimbabwe for the UN Needs Assessment Team and in so doing the Foreign Minister stated that "The only time that the United Nations go into the territory of a member state is after a Security Council resolution under Chapter Seven of the United Nations Charter, those are the only circumstances….. In this particular instance, we have failed to reach mutually agreed terms of reference. We have rejected what they want to impose upon us. And we had insisted that they should come on our terms, not on their terms. We are a member state."

In addition Zimbabwe is very notorious for silently turning down UN visit requests and even deported a UN sepcial rapporteur , Manfred Nowak in 2009.

The third rung of the inquiry should take into account the current human rights situation in the country. On 6 August, ZANU-PF ran full-page advertisements in newspapers saying its crushing election win was an endorsement of “black economic empowerment” plans that target foreign-owned companies including banks and mines.“The people of Zimbabwe have given President Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF a clear mandate to transform the economy through indigenization and economic empowerment,” the party said.“Over the next five years, Zimbabwe is going to witness a unique wealth transfer model that will see ordinary people take charge of the economy.”ZANU-PF says it has set its eyes on 1,100 foreign-owned firms.

In response to this story, some Zimbabweans have labelled this as retrogressive conduct and in particular one comment said, ‘Black empowerment is in education and training. I don't know how black people can say taking over companies that have their own operations is a good thing??? it didn't work with farms and it sure as hell won't work with full fledge businesses. I don't know ANY country that is free of foreign-owned companies and is a great success’.

To prove the sheer hypocrisy of the black empowerment drive, SW Radio carries a Report dated 7 August that at least 20 families in Goromonzi district in Mashonaland West have been evicted from their homes and are now homeless. The stranded farm workers have put up plastic shacks on the side of the road.

These are all very clear signs that Zimbabwe is descending into a Communist state. There is ample evidence that the primary beneficiaries of the empowerment drive are in one or the other linked to the ZANU PF party. In this context, there is every indication that ZANU PF is creating a "communist state" – a system where public ownership of all or most means of production by the Communist party-run state is deemed necessary to further the interests of the working class. If one were to draw lessons from Sacha Baron Cohen’s Film ‘Dictator’, it would be easy to see where the country is heading to. In that film at a signing ceremony, Aladeen the Dictator tears up Tamir's document in front of the UN delegation, and holds an impassioned speech praising the virtues of dictatorship, drawing unintended parallels to current issues within the United States. This is what is likely to happen at Vitoria Falls.

The strategies that are being used towards the creation of an autocratic one party state are varied, the main one being Law 42 of the so called Laws of Power premised on the idea that 'Strike the shephered (Tsvangirai) and the sheep will scatter. ZANU PF has enlisted the help of high ranking individuals, even some from the democratic movemment to demonise Tsvangirai, telling him to move on and for Zimbabweans to accept the new reality and simply move on. Even Zimbabwean opinion makers on TV including the BBC offer the so called 'balanced opinions' which are nothing but a drive to neutralise the truth. One of the hallmarks of totalitarian regimes is their insistence on controlling people’s thoughts as well as their behaviour. George Orwell captured the point brilliantly by his creation of the sinister “Thought Police” in his novel 1984. The idea “if you are not with us, you are against us” pervades the thinking of dictators. From their perspective, there is no real difference between neutrality and opposition. This concept called 'othering' in sociology is premised on the process of perceiving or portraying someone or something as fundamentally different or alien.

Further, the summit is likely to be used to continue the unprecedented deception we have all witnessed. The deception that began at the inception of the inclusive government has no precedent in political history but in John Grisham’s novels. The MDC was led on the primrose path until they woke up on 31 July only to realise that they had been pushed downhill from the Primrose Hill. They were lulled into a false sense of security through illusions and deception. In our analysis dated 25 April 2013, on Hon. Tendai Biti’s speech at Chatham House titled Hall marks of potential political consensus on key issues we mention how Tendai Biti had all the good intentions, going around the world to convince the international community to embrace Zimbabwe again. While he was working for national good, ZANU PF on other hand were actually using him.

In light of the above, should the world attend the summit? This is a matter of judgement call for each nation. In our view, may be the nations should attend but the attendance should have further terms of reference; such as:

• There should be a discussion of human rights

• There should be freedom of expression for guests to query the current political process

• Should ZANU PF solely form a government before the summit, delegates should ask Cain (ZANU PF), where is his brother Abel is? (The ‘MDC’).

• Civil society organisations should be allowed the right to peaceful protest and/or to hold parallel events on the side-lines of the Summit.

The Summit provides the international community a rare window of opportunity to venture into Zimbabwe, a nation that is increasingly being isolated from the world by the Chinese walls. This will give the international community a rare chance to speak to ordinary folk on the ground for them to air their concerns. This will be reminder that although the country has been politically isolated for a decade, Zimbabweans are still bound together with the family of nations in the same blanket of human destiny.

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