South African Tourism Minister Tokozile Xasa on Wednesday expressed dismay at African countries not supporting each other and failing to vote Zimbabwe Tourism minister Walter Mzembi secretary general of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.
Xasa told journalists at the Tourism Indaba in Durban that she was exasperated by the lack of unity on the continent, which saw some African countries vote for European candidates.
Mzembi lost narrowly last week in Spain to Georgia’s Zurab Polilakashvilli in a tightly contested UNWTO elections for Secretary General.
The Zimbabwe Tourism minister, whom Xasa described as the most senior and most experienced minister in the world, led the first round 11 to Georgia’s eight, but eventually lost in the second round after getting 15 votes, three short of his rival’s 18.
There are 33 member states in the UNWTO executive council, which constitute the electoral college, of which 10 are from Africa, Europe 10, Middle East three, South Asia two, Americas five and East Asia three.
Xasa accused Seychelles, which withdrew its candidate, Alain St. Ange just before the race for causing the confusion which contributed to Mzembi’s loss.
“But the unfortunate part is that of the five candidates, there was a second candidate from Africa. Which means the vote from Africa was divided into two,” she said.
In addition, Xasa said other Africa countries supported European candidates when the two already split the votes.
“I am trying to demonstrate something here. We won first round with flying colours. We got 11 and I can tell you that 11 was not constituted by the African countries,” she said.
“That I can tell you straight up, Minister Mzembi was number one with 11 votes and second candidate had eight, third seven and fourth three. I am not counting the fifth because just a day before the election, the second candidate had to be withdrawn by his country, Seychelles, as it had at first supported him. The damage had already been done.
Xasa added that: “The third aspect was technically when a person is given a space to withdraw in an executive council and yet he is not an executive member of the council. It hit so hard on Africa and the African Union. Do you think people will take us seriously? After that they didn’t.
“We won round one. The only black person was him and the rest were white. I am not trying to be racist but that is how the industry is transformed. And how Africa is perceived, it is either through us or through what we do or on colour lines. He was the only one. He had beaten all of them first round.
Xasa said if Africa had been united Mzembi would have won the elections.
“I am convinced that had we been more united we would have taken it. Sitting here I am convinced that we could have taken that because he is the longest serving minister of tourism that we have in the world. He has been serving in the executive council of the UNWTO. He has accumulated a lot of experience hence he is chairing the commission for Africa, which is the continental arm of that world tourism body,” she said.
Xasa alluded to racism playing a part at the elections at the United Nations organ.
Since its inception in 1975, it has not been run by an Africa and the continent had hoped to make history through Mzembi.
“What is being picked is just the country he comes from and gets supported for that,” Xasa said.
“Come second round we had just lumped all of them against us. We lost by three votes only. I think we tested them big time. So the current person who succeeded comes from a very small country called Georgia. He is only an ambassador of Georgia in Spain. He has not even been at the realm of tourism.”
By Faith Zaba in Durban