UNWTO Secretary General Post Power Play Moves To Madrid


The race is on for the next UNWTO Secretary General. Candidates are heading to Madrid during the upcoming FITUR to introduce themselves. Specifically in Africa, the fight for Africa is becoming unpredictable.

The current Secretary General, Taleb Rifai – a Jordanian national – has held the post for the past seven years and is due to step down at the end of 2017. Elections for the post are due to take place during the UNWTO Executive Council meeting scheduled to be held in Madrid in mid-May, 2017. Widely respected for his leadership of the Organisation, Rifai is seen as a unifying figure whose legacy rests on the slow but steady rise in the profile and indeed the impact of tourism as a vehicle for the promotion of understanding between peoples and cultures.

SADC member states – including Seychelles – unanimously endorsed Mzembi’s [Zimbabwe] candidature in March 2016. African Heads of State and Government, meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, in July 2016, added their own unanimous endorsement of Mzembi, who thus became Africa’s candidate for UNWTO.

Mzembi last week got unexpected competition. Entering the race for the second time is the former minister of tourism for the Republic of Seychelles, Alain St. Ange. St.Ange resigned as the minister of his country on December 28 to concentrate on his UNWTO campaign.

Ange was one of the first voicing interest in the UNWTO position.

After initially announcing his candidacy the former Seychelles minister backed out several months ago. His political party lost the election in the Seychelles, but the popular and outspoken St.Ange was able to maintain his minister post and even expanded to include aviation and marines.

At the same time, the Hon. Walter Mzembi went full steam traveling the globe successfully campaigning for Africa.

With three or four other expected candidates from Europe and Latin America, there is no unity in that part of the world either. Therefore if anyone from Europe or Latin America wants to win, splitting up African votes would definitely help.

The importance of Africa and the ambitions at that time by South Korea to treat Africans well was very much a factor when Taleb Rifai was elected.

Although there is no officially recognised system of regional rotation when it comes to filling the post of UNWTO Secretary-General, there has emerged a general sense of understanding that, given the right candidate, Africa – which has never held the top post before- could be well-placed to assume leadership of the Organisation and to take it to new heights of consequence and recognition within the broad United Nations family.

Both Latin America and Europeans already served as the UNWTO Secretary General.

Name Years of Tenure
France Robert Lonati 1975–1985
Austria Willibald Pahr 1986–1989
Mexico Antonio Enriquez Savignac 1990–1996
France Francesco Frangialli 1997–2009
Jordan Taleb Rifai 2010–Present

An article just published in the London Evening News commented on the surprise move of former minister of tourism for the Seychelles to enter the race. In so doing, and should he receive the official endorsement of his government, he and his government will be openly breaking ranks with the 15-member Southern African Development Community [SADC] and 54-member African Union [AU], both of which have long ago endorsed a single candidate to carry Africa’s bid to win this coveted post.

Indications by several sources may paint a different picture of other political forces outside Africa to encourage both African candidates to run for the UNWTO post. Both men are highly motivated and qualified to bring a breeze of fresh air into the UNWTO establishment. Unless any of the two enjoy an enormous support outside Africa against the 3 or 4 already in the race from outside the black continent, it would be a tough fight.

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