It’s a funny old world. At the end of August, the UN World Tourism Organisation held its bi-annual general assembly at the Victoria Falls, the border between hosts Zambia and Zimbabwe. More than 120 delegations attended with a stated objective of “advancing tourism’s sustainable growth.” The black humour makes it entry when you realise that one of the world’s more authoritarian dictators, President Robert Mugabe, welcomed the delegates and the practices which have occurred to produce this shindig are from sustainable.

It should be noted that the majority of members of UNTWO are from developing nations. Developed countries like the USA and Britain have never been members and certain other developed nations like Canada have withdrawn from the organisation in protest against the promotion by the organisation of individuals like Mugabe. Mugabe won another contested election at the end of July. Leading developed countries have criticised the election as far from being free and fair. Yet Mugabe used the platform of this UN organisation to grandstand and legitimise his position in the global community. Many NGOs and democratic organisations are critical.

U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer has stated ‘It’s outrageous that the U.N. is allowing itself to be used like this as a propaganda tool.’ ‘Amid reports of election-rigging and ongoing human rights abuses, Zimbabwe is the last country that should be legitimized by a U.N. summit of any kind.’

This is always the moral question in tourism. Should people visit a country where an authoritarian dictatorship exists which oppresses any opposition and bans the basic principal of free speech? If people do not visit, the ordinary people suffer from further unemployment and the misery that brings in a less developed country. Since 2000, tourism to Zimbabwe has suffered but there have been signs in the last 18 months that the situation is turning. Victoria Falls has continued as the most popular destination for foreign visitors and new infrastructure is being brought on stream.

On the issue of sustainability, there has been patent hypocrisy by the host country Zimbabwe. More than 300 wild animals from the Save Valley Conservancy in Masvingo have been transported some 700 kilometres to Zambezi National Park by Victoria Falls, in order to give the impression of abundant game populations ahead of the big event. The animals included 150 wildebeests, 100 impalas, 60 zebras, 25 eland and 10 giraffes.

The NGO Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force has stated “National Parks apparently haven’t had enough funds to pay their employees’ wages for the past three or four months, so we wonder how they can afford to move these animals.” This section of national park is known to have serious poaching problems; yet, here these animals have been transported as a window dressing and propaganda exercise to the very people and organisation which supposedly stands against such practises.

Hypocrisy and grandstanding at the UN? Surely not!

Controversy at UN Summit by Nicolas Edwards

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