In September 2009, during the 19th UNWTO General Assembly in Astana, Kazakhstan, Dr Taleb Rifai, then ad-interim, was confirmed as the Secretary General. Attendant to this, it couldn’t escape our memory that the Middle East was taking stewardship of the Organization for the first time. A chronicle of the Organization records 1957 as the year Robert Lonati, a Frenchman, assumed office as the first Secretary General of the International Union of Official Travel Organisations(IUOTO). His mandate extended to 1974. In 1975, at the conception of what is today the WTO, and as it located to its headquarters in Madrid, he again took on the mantle of leadership as Secretary General. He is justly credited with being the Grandfather of Global Tourism as we know it today.
However, whether it is IUOTO, WTO or UNWTO, the fact is that Europe has been in the driving seat of global tourism for a record 46 years. Thereafter, Latin America – in the form of Mexico – headed the Organisation for eight years. Then, for the past eight years, we have been led by the Middle East. Neither Africa nor Asia has been accorded this privilege or this responsibility. Whilst acknowledging and expressing our sincere admiration and gratitude for the leadership and indeed the powerful legacy bequeathed by the afore-mentioned regions, we strongly believe it is now Africa’s time and, applying the admittedly informal principle of rotational equity that prevails at the United Nations, it is not difficult to see why, to some degree, Africa has this sense of expectation, nor the appeal Africa is making, by way of my nomination and the endorsement I have received by African Heads of State and Government, for the support of all UNWTO members for my candidature.
The conviction that this is indeed Africa’s time, together with a determination to bring to the table a stronger Africa – in terms of significantly improving its current unacceptable 3 to 5% global tourism market-share performance – motivated me to begin to lobby within the Continent itself. Today I stand before you, nominated by Zimbabwe and endorsed by both SADC and the Africa Union as its official candidate. The endorsement of African Heads of State and Government came only after a rigorous defence of my candidature and a comprehensive presentation of my vision for the future of the UNWTO before the African Candidatures Committees, which oversees proposals for the deployment of Africans to multilateral and international systems.
Africa is therefore deploying a candidate who it knows is both tried and tested – understanding that this mandate goes well beyond tourism and into unlocking trade and investment opportunities on a win-win basis with the globe as the African Union implements its Agenda 2063, presenting the “Africa we Want”. Casa Africa and Investur here in Spain, requires this pedigree of deployment in Capitan Haya Street to unleash the full potential of hitherto unexploited trade and investment opportunities between Africa and Spain. Europe more broadly and the rest of the world should reflect much more on what this candidature could achieve for them within the context of the “Visit, Trade and Invest” concept.
I must state however that, official endorsement as Africa’s candidate for the Secretary General post notwithstanding, you may be approached by one or more aspiring candidates from other African countries. It is their sovereign right to break ranks with a formal decision of African Heads of State and Government. For my part, I stand by the confidence the African Union has placed in me and, recalling the powerful legacy of African international civil servants such as Dr Kofi Annan and Dr Boutros Boutros Ghali – albeit leaders of the mother UN body itself – I know that I can and will deliver and will make both Africa and the UNWTO proud.
The unilateralism we are witnessing is the same unilateralism responsible for much of the mischief and conflict in our world today. Equally an unbridled sense of entitlement that says it has to be my country or else, cannot preside over global institutions, as it points to gross intolerance. 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. We are on borrowed time and future generations cannot be disadvantaged because we have acted selfishly.