For a day or two, Zimbabwe literally stopped functioning as every citizen waited impatiently for a cabinet reshuffle as announced by President Robert Mugabe during a Zanu PF youths meeting in Harare.
Many conspiracies were thrown around with the reshuffle seen as the final nail on Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s rocky political journey. Little was expected of other ‘small fish’ as some may say, the real showdown was for the Lacoste kingpin.
One cannot be mistaken for thinking that the reshuffle was all about succession, consolidation of power by decimating Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa loyalists in government. The reshuffle was never about service delivery, let’s get it straight.
Yes, the G40 faction might be celebrating but President Mugabe could have scored an offside on re-assigning Walter Mzembi from Ministry of Tourism to Foreign Affairs.
Mzembi, who, although not identified by any Zanu PF faction has previously received praises from Mugabe and in the eyes of many the President had a soft spot for the charismatic former Tourism minister.
To many Zimbabweans across the political divide, Mzembi was the right person for the Tourism portfolio. A sober minded person with limitless ability to engage even hostile countries in the west. Aggressive enough to take the bull by the horns in contesting for the UNWTO Secretary General post, though he eventually lost.
It must be noted that Mzembi’s vision for the country’s tourism sector could have suffered now that a whole new minister without experience in such a portfolio has been appointed to take charge of one of the most fragile sectors but a significant player in the country’s gross domestic product.
Credit goes to Mzembi for taking the tourism post at a time Zimbabwe was struggling to even attract visitors from her neighbors including Zambia let alone South Africa.
It was an assignment which threw him literally into the deep end. During that period, serious diplomatic disagreements were going on with the international community over the country’s land reform and gross human rights abuses by the Mugabe administration and the job needed a man with charm.
After a sustained re-engagement and re-branding efforts, Mzembi and his team managed to transform the Zimbabwe tourism economy from the US$ 200 million to US$ 1 billion per annum in the process unlocking the country’s rich tourists attraction places to the global community.
So much so that the February 2015 Edition of the New York Times’ 52 Global Must Visit Report, ranked Zimbabwe number 14 on its “attractiveness index” and anointed it as a “ once avoided, now a must-see destination”.
This is but the latest of numerous international accolades and endorsements bestowed upon Zimbabwe in the wake of our focused and sustained re-branding thrust, a thrust which turned adversity into opportunity successfully leveraging the country’s amazing tourism products to develop an infinitely more positive, more enticing narrative.
Thanks to Mzembi.
Of paramount importance was his role in organizing of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) co-hosted by Zimbabwe and Zambia in August 2013 and the success of the meeting cannot be ignored.
In 2017 Mzembi contested for the Secretary-General post of the World Tourism Organization, which he narrowly lost to Zurab Pololikashvili of Georgia.
In his presentation on why he was the best man for UNWTO SG post, Mzembi said “My candidature is built on passion for tourism, tolerance, unity and transformation and it is my appeal, as I launch my bid to lead the UNWTO, that we cooperate for the common good of humanity, and that we desist from any form of discrimination or division.”
Here is a man who did his tourism job with passion and diligence unlike most ministers who are duty bound but lack the zeal to undertake their tasks.
Mzembi is the only Minister who tackled the issue of roadblocks head on and he received a fair share of criticism from his inner circle for trying to close down a (corrupt) revenue generation for his elite comrades.
He is on record calling for an end to protests and stay aways that rocked the country last year, saying they attracted negative publicity from both local and international media, a scenario which he said affected the sector’s growth efforts.
As he moves to a more challenging portfolio, Mzembi should not turn his back on the journey he had begun when he was the tourism minister. As the country’s foreign affairs minister, Mzembi has an opportunity to continue marketing destination Zimbabwe each time he is on duty outside the country.
He must use vision and energy, which he exhibited at Tourism, to attract foreign direct investment.
Best of luck Minister.