Intrigue and sleight of hand in Madrid:
The intensifying struggle for the soul of the UNWTO

Zimbabwe Health Minister Dr Walter Mzembi addressing 200-plus guests at the launch of his bid for the UNWTO Secretary Generalship.
Zimbabwe Health Minister Dr Walter Mzembi addressing 200-plus guests at the launch of his bid for the UNWTO Secretary Generalship.

By Our Special Correspondent in Madrid – Spain

Madrid this week has been something of a hive of intrigue and obfuscation – both conscious and accidental – into which cocktail has been stirred (but not quite shaken), a dash of possibly ‘innocent’ deceit and a dash of some outright sleight-of-hand.

This week, of course, has seen the ‘off’ in the increasingly no-holds-barred race for the Secretary-Generalship of the United Nations World Tourisam Organisation (UNWTO), with aspiring candidates – now eight in number – either making formal launches within UNWTO´s heartland (the Organisation is headquartered in Madrid) or using the backdrop of FITUR, Spain´s anual international tourism fair – the global industry´s second most important gathering – to lodge their candidature papers with the UNWTO Secretariat.

Elections for the new Secretary General will take place in Madrid, in May this year. The new Secretary General will take up his or her post in January 2018, replacing the widely respected and much revered Dr Taleb Rifai, of Jordan, who, at the end of 2017, will stand down at the end of his two-term leadership of the Organisation. What started some months ago as a relatively pedestrian exercise, with no more than two or possibly three serious candidates has now developed into an eight-way tug-of-war at the very core of which is an all-out battle for the very soul of the Organisation.

Three months ago, the only ‘declared’ candidates were the endlessly energectic, engaging and articulate Tourism Minister of Zimbabwe, Walter Mzembi, and his almost direct opposite (personality-wise), Marcio Favilla – a Brazilian national holding a key Executive Director position within the Organisation and seen as an archetypal international bureaucrat. One year ago, for personal reasons, and with the full endorsement of the Executive Council, Dr Rifai elevated Mr Favilla to become, effectively, his deputy and began to delegate to him more and more of his (Rifai´s) representational and managerial responsibilities.

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