United Nations’ World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) will hold elections by its Executive Council for the next Secretary General, following the eight-year tenure of the current Secretary General Dr. Taleb Rifai of Jordan.

Africa has not held the top UNWTO post of Secretary General and, although there is no officially recognised system of regional rotation when it comes to filling the post, there has emerged a general sense of understanding that, given the right candidate, Africa could be well-placed to assume leadership and take it to new heights of recognition within the broad United Nations family, as well as the international tourism industry

Elections for the next UNWTO Secretary General are due to take place during the UNWTO Executive Council meeting scheduled to be held in Madrid in mid-May.

Africa unanimously presented its candidate for the post, Dr Walter Mzembi, who currently heads UNWTO Africa Section and is the Tourism Minister of Zimbabwe.

Mzembi has the endorsement as Africa’s candidate for the UNWTO Secretary General by the 54-member African Union, as well as the 15-member Southern African Development Community. African Heads of State and Government meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, in July 2016, added their own unanimous endorsement of Mzembi, who thus became the official candidate to carry Africa’s bid to win this coveted international tourism post.

In its confirmatory letter of endorsement, addressed to the Secretary General of the UNWTO, the African Union Commission stated:

“It is the firm conviction of African Heads of State and Government  –  as evidenced by their unanimous endorsement of Dr. Mzembi’s candidature – that he has the qualifications, skills and competence; the vision; and, equally as important, the drive and passion to successfully build on the remarkable legacy bequeathed to global tourism by His Excellency Dr. Rifai, and to lead the organization and global tourism to new heights of relevance, recognition and results  –  tourism being an effective vehicle for sustainable development, the building of deeper understanding between peoples and cultures, and for the reinforcement of the quest for greater global harmony and peace.”

Mzembi’s experience in world tourism includes such international positions as Chairman of the Southern African Development Community Committee of Tourism Ministers in 2015, UNWTO Executive Council Member from 2009 to 2013, and Chairperson of UNWTO Commission for Africa from 2013 to date. UNWTO Co-President in Session 20 of the General Assembly from 2013-2015, as well as President of the Africa Travel Association (New York-based) three times,  International Board Member of the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy (ICD), 2011 African Minister of the Year, Public Service Manager of the Year, and African Achievers Awards Tourism Excellence Award for 2012.

During the last week of December, Africa and Mzembi got the unexpected surprise of competition for the Secretary General position.

Entering the race for the Secretary General for the second time is the former Minister of Tourism for the Republic of Seychelles, Alain St. Ange. After his political party lost the recent election in the Seychelles St. Ange resigned his Ministerial post to re-enter his quest for the UNWTO position.

The move by the former Seychelles Minister of Tourism was a surprise, and if he receives the official endorsement of his government, he and his government will be openly breaking ranks with the 15-member Southern African Development Community and 54-member African Union, both of which have long ago endorsed a single candidate to carry Africa’s bid to win this coveted post – Mzembi.

With three or four other expected candidates from Europe and Latin America, the two candidates from Africa would open the opportunity for anyone from Europe, Asia or Latin America to win the votes, since African membership in the voting Executive Council favours African candidacy and having two will split the African votes and definitely help the other candidates’ chances of securing the position, and Africa will be on the side lines once again.