Zimbabwe's Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi

 Walter Mzembi

FRESH from a comprehensive victory in the July 31 elections but confronted with an economy in serious trouble the Zanu PF government is looking at ways of mending ties with western countries – Britain in particular – which imposed sanctions the party blames for bringing Zimbabwe’s economy to its knees.

Tourism minister Walter Mzembi, who is in London attending the World Travel Market, made this clear in an interview with the BBC. Mzembi said despite the animosity of the last decade or so, there remained an “undeniable” link between Zimbabwe and Britain which could form the basis of a new relationship – as long as the UK dispensed with its master-servant approach and recognised that the former colony was now an independent and equal partner.

Mzembi spoke to the BBC’s James Coomarasamy …

Jamie Coomarasamy (JC): You are particularly keen on – and you are not alone by any means – in trying to encourage Chinese visitors …

Walter Mzembi (WM): Absolutely because they are the biggest spenders now in the world; at US$140 billion they have surpassed Germany. But more importantly China is in that unique position where they are raising a whole new middle class – 300 million people have just entered the middle class in that country and we seek, obviously, to leverage on that critical mass in order to grow our tourism. If you are a tourism policy planner and you are just sitting not thinking China, you are not thinking Brazil, Russian and India then you should be fired because that is where the growth strategy is going.
JC: How successful have you been in getting Chinese visitors?

WM: Well, we were the first country … well there are many now that are now turning to the East, but we were the among the first to recognise that we had to adopt a Look East policy and it was obviously borne out of all the animosity that the Western world was exercising towards us; it made us turn immediately to the East and we adopted a Look East policy and by 2006 we had crafted and penned signatures on a preferred destination status agreement (with China).

JC: Your economy is has turned around in the last few years. Today, I see your government predicting 6 percent GDP growth for next year. How important is re-electing President Robert Mugabe to your country’s growth?

WM: Well, President Mugabe is obviously a symbol of our nationhood. But having said that, he is obviously now in a position where he is able to raise a new generation going forward – I wouldn’t be here as part of leadership … at 50 I sit in the same Cabinet with President Mugabe at 89 and I can tell you there is no greater joy than obviously reading from that script because you can’t substitute that experience for anything, and you can’t shop it over the counter. But he is raising a generation to take over and that generation has got to write its own legacy.

JC: Are you thinking about … it sounds to me as though you’re already thinking about the post Mugabe era?

WM: Well, it’s inevitable that it will come when it will come …
JC: Will it be different to the Mugabe era?

WM: Well, it will be an era built on his legacy of total empowerment and liberation of the African and I can tell you there is no country like Zimbabwe where black people now own their full means of production in the land that has been bequeathed to them by him (Mugabe); that inheritance is obviously unparalleled – you can only read about it in the Bible.
JC: Isn’t one of the things you inherit though … very strained relations with the West?

WM: We will fix that (interrupted) … that’s why I’m here. We have already started fixing that. The mere coming of the entire world to Zimbabwe (for the World Tourism Congress) and it was declared, not by me, but by the UNWTO themselves, as the best ever attended general assembly in the history of general assemblies … (interrupted)

JC: There was a lot of criticism about it (tourism congress) happening there though, do you still feel out in the cold?

WM: Unfortunately it was criticism coming from a country like the UK where I’m today … people that don’t belong, as it were.
JC: Are you trying to mend … bridges, fences?

WM:  Yes, yes … we have an undeniable link with the British … a hundred years of investment relationships between each other. But times have changed; when a country assumes independence it assumes also the role of master and you must treat it equally and defer and submit to its own authority …

JC: Do the British treat you fairly?

WM: I think they still treat us unfairly …
JC: Still master and servant?

WM: I think that is the feeling back home – that it’s master and servant, and I think the sooner we begin to treat each other as equals the more and better for our relations going forward. I don’t think there is any country in Africa where the British have a higher incidence of investment than there is in Zimbabwe. And I don’t there is any other country also where the British are best disposed to maintain a foothold in investment in African than is the case in Zimbabwe.

JC: What do you say to British people though who might want to visit Zimbabwe but can’t get beyond the images of years ago of white farmers being chased off their farms? Is it a place that we should really feel safe going back to with Mugabe still in charge?

WM: Yeah, that is the unfortunate thing about global mainstream media. It continues to recycle images that are already in the past, that are virtually history. And it is the mischief of Africa’s inability to establish its own BBC, raise its own African CNN where it actually runs current fresh messages which are actually relevant …
JC: What’s the fresh message?

WM: The fresh message is that Zimbabwe is one of the most peaceful and stable democracies in Southern Africa and if you compare us to what is happening up north, the happenings in Kenya, more recently, in Egypt – you’d marvel at how much of a peace haven Zimbabwe has become; how much of a secure destination we’re to the extent that our crime rates are obviously the lowest in the region and everyone is free to move as they wish. The investment laws have been relaxed substantially, to the extent that you can get an investment licence in less than three days – in the past it would be 90 days. The currency regime multiple currency, we don’t even use our own Zimbabwean dollar at this juncture and we just reassured investors and the entire global village that we will be linked and riding on multiple currencies – that includes the US Dollar, British Pound and the South African Rand in the main for the next five years. So there is no exchange rate at all, we have eliminated it – and I think we are possibly and probably one of the most attractive investment destinations in southern Africa.

From : Zimbabwesituation.com

7 November 2013