Sata and Mugabe highlight of UNWTO opening

President Michael Sata on arrival at Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International Airport for the opening of the UNWTO 20th General Assembly -Picture by THOMAS NSAMA

IF YOU were under the illusion that tourism in Zambia and Zimbabwe starts and ends with wild animals, the Victoria Falls and cultural dances, you may have another ‘think’ coming.
This is especially after President Sata and his Zimbabwean colleague Robert Mugabe literally brought down the proverbial house at Victoria Hotel in Victoria Falls Town on the opening night of the premier UNWTO event that came to the region over the weekend.
In a rare show of intelligent wit and just plain old-fashioned humor, the two leaders had delegates laughing and hanging to their every word as they repackaged the tourism for Africa.
The approach was captivating, enchanting and so outside the box as the two presidents lightened the mood trading wit after wit from the glitz and glamour of the hotel that overlooks the Victoria Falls Bridge, a world engineering landmark.
As the two presidents addressed the 750 delegates to the 20th United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general on Sunday night, one thing came out – they can be very funny when the moment calls for fun. The delegates definitely got more than they had bargained for – something to laugh about a lot.
Below are some of the witty lines the two leaders through around:
Mr Sata: “Comrade Mugabe, without Amai Grace and indeed without Amai Christine, what we are seeing would not have been possible. A great man must have a great woman behind him and that’s what we are seeing. Well done the two young ladies.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, although we are supposed to be Siamese twins [with Mr Mugabe], I do not want to steal his show… I now call upon the bigger twin to come and tell us why he has called us here because up to now we have not eaten.”
Mr Mugabe: The Zambian minister of Tourism (Sylvia Masebo) referred to me as the President of Zambia. I was only recently inaugurated as President of Zimbabwe on Thursday. She said ‘Robert Mugabe, the President of Zambia’…but I am only an honorary President of Zambia and so are you [Mr Sata], if you didn’t know, an honorary President of Zimbabwe.”
In reference to wildlife, Mr Mugabe said: “Here you will wake up every morning to the chirping of our birds…beautiful chirping of birds and then the aura of the African sun, beautiful sun, which you have never seen anywhere else. And as that sun rises, you can look the Zambian way, the Zimbabwean way and you will see a variety of animals and of course the Zambezi River itself, with the crocodiles and hippos. You can befriend any of these, some of them only prefer distant friendship, others you can get very close, so the choice is yours!”
“And in the middle of all this, you can go to sleep under the star-filled African skies…that variety of animals which you will see in the surrounding. With these remarks ah… that jumping with your head down [bungee], I don’t personally enjoy seeing it but those of you who are that gymnastic about it, well it’s available.”
And President Sata says the co-hosting of the UNWTO general assembly by Zambia and Zimbabwe is testimony to the two countries’ commitment to exploiting the economic potential of tourism in the region.
Mr Sata reiterated the government’s commitment to leveraging on the tourism sector because it is the engine of economic growth and wealth creation.
President Sata, who thanked UNWTO for giving the two countries an opportunity to host the event, called for increased support towards sustainable tourism and capacity building, which can improve the welfare of the people.
“The co-hosting of this important tourism conference by our two countries is a clear testimony of our commitment to exploiting the regional potential of the tourism sector.
“I wish to call for increased support for sustainable tourism…capacity building that promotes environmental awareness, ecosystems, cultural diversity, aimed at improving the livelihood of local communities by supporting their local economies,” Mr Sata said.
President Sata said the government will continue to promote sustainable and responsible tourism which can contribute to renewable development and creation of decent jobs.
“As you [delegates] meet to discuss issues that will help us make tourism a global agenda, I would like to emphasise that well-designed and managed tourism can make a significant contribution to sustainable development, create decent jobs and generate trade opportunities for our countries,” he said.
President Sata also paid tribute to first ladies of Zambia and Zimbabwe, Christine Kaseba and Grace Mugabe, respectively, for ensuring that the co-hosting of the event is a success.
He also commended Minister of Tourism and Arts Sylvia Masebo and her Zimbabwean counterpart Walter Mzembi for successfully organising the event.
Earlier, Minister of Tourism and Arts Sylvia Masebo said the government will continue to promote the growth of tourism because it has the capacity to improve the lives of the vulnerable, especially women and children.
Ms Masebo said the hosting of the event underscores the importance the two countries attach to tourism.
“As a body, we need to influence the two heads of state to come up with policy guidelines or decisions that will push tourism higher in terms of what it can achieve.
We all acknowledge that we do have obstacles that really need to be overcome and this can only be achieved by certain policies that will make it easier for our people to benefit from tourism,” she said.