The UNWTO Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Elec­tion Fi­asco

When I wrote ’ The Race for UNWTO Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral’ on 11 April, I had high hopes on the Sey­chelles can­di­date Alain St.Ange win­ning the race. At the time, I could not have fore­seen that this es­teemed in­sti­tu­tion would be­come em­broiled in scan­dal and poli

Tourism Tattler - - EDITORIAL - By Des Langk­ilde.

To ap­pre­ci­ate the in­trigue, let's re­count the course of events as they un­folded be­fore and af­ter the fate­ful day of the elec­tion when Ge­or­gian can­di­date Zurab Polo­likashvili was nom­i­nated UNWTO Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral for the 2018-2022 pe­riod.

On 20 April, Ethiopia sub­mit­ted an ur­gent let­ter to the min­is­ters in charge of tourism in Congo, Uganda, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Zam­bia, Ghana, Morocco, Nige­ria, Zim­babwe, Niger, Kenya, Gam­bia, Benin, Burk­ina Faso, Su­dan, An­gola, and the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of Congo, urg­ing them to sup­port a let­ter to be sub­mit­ted to the Chair­per­son of the African Union Com­mis­sion urg­ing him to ap­proach the Re­pub­lic of the Sey­chelles “to put the in­ter­est of Africa first and to with­draw their can­di­da­ture (of Alain St.Ange) and work with (Zim­babwe's can­di­date) Wal­ter Mzembi in or­der for Africa to en­hance its chances of win­ning this po­si­tion.”

Con­sid­er­ing that Sey­chelles is an ac­tive mem­ber of both the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) and the African Union (AU), the is­land state would have been in­volved in the de­ci­sion to “unan­i­mously” en­dorse Mzembi as Africa's can­di­date at re­spec­tive meet­ings con­vened in March 2016 in Gaborone, Botswana, and in July 2016 in Ki­gali, Rwanda. Why then did the Sey­chelles Pres­i­dent Danie Faure sub­se­quently ac­cept St.Ange's con­sci­en­tious let­ter of res­ig­na­tion from his po­si­tion as Min­is­ter of Tourism, Civil Avi­a­tion, Ports & Marine on 29 De­cem­ber 2016? In fact, the Sey­chelles News Agency ac­tu­ally is­sued a state­ment from the pres­i­dent's of­fice on Wed­nes­day 28th stat­ing that Min­is­ter St.Ange in­tends to ap­ply for the post of Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral of the World Tourism Or­gan­i­sa­tion. By do­ing so, the pres­i­dent ef­fec­tively en­dorsed St.Ange's can­di­dacy, a fact that was con­firmed when St.Ange pre­sented his of­fi­cial doc­u­ments (which had to in­clude a let­ter of en­dorse­ment from his coun­try) to for­malise his can­di­da­ture dur­ing the FITUR tourism trade fair in Madrid, Spain in Jan­uary 2017.

The AU fi­nally got around to sub­mit­ting the afore­men­tioned let­ter to the Sey­chelles via its mem­ber rep­re­sen­ta­tive Zam­bia, de­mand­ing that the is­land state im­me­di­ately with­draws its can­di­date from the race, ef­fec­tively black­mail­ing the Sey­chelles with im­plied threats of eco­nomic sanc­tions by AU mem­ber states.

On 9 May, just two days be­fore the UNWTO elec­tions were to take place in Spain, Pres­i­dent Faure chaired an Ex­tra-Or­di­nary Cab­i­net meet­ing at which the Sey­chelles Cab­i­net agreed to with­draw the can­di­da­ture of St.Ange for the po­si­tion of Sec­re­tary Gen­eral. “Sey­chelles will stand in sol­i­dar­ity with the African Union and sup­port the African Union’s of­fi­cially en­dorsed can­di­date from Zim­babwe in the up­com­ing elec­tion.” read the of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment. Of course, St.Ange was al­ready in Madrid at the time (at his own ex­pense I must add) to lobby for his coun­tries can­di­da­ture when the news broke. One can only imag­ine his sur­prise and ex­treme dis­ap­point­ment when he heard of his coun­tries back ped­dling. Months of trav­el­ling the globe, sleep­less nights, lob­by­ing for sup­port, and sig­nif­i­cant per­sonal ex­pen­di­ture had just gone down the drain, not to men­tion his em­bar­rass­ment at hav­ing to dis­ap­point count­less sup­port­ers, many of whom had of­fi­cially sub­mit­ted letters of en­dorse­ment to the UNWTO.

Fol­low­ing the 11 May elec­tions, it has be­come ap­par­ent that con­tro­versy sur­rounds the nom­i­na­tion of Al­ba­nia's Zurab Polokashvili. Un­like other can­di­dates, Polo­likashvili barely at­tended any UNWTO events be­fore or af­ter his elec­tion, but he did at­tend and in­vite se­lected del­e­gates to a foot­ball game in Madrid on 10 May. The ac­cu­sa­tion is that Polo­likashvili hand­picked vot­ing ex­ec­u­tive mem­bers of the UNWTO to oblige and im­press them by spon­sor­ing foot­ball tick­ets that were al­most im­pos­si­ble to get – all dur­ing the on­go­ing Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil con­fer­ence. Fur­ther al­le­ga­tions of fraud, pay­offs, and un­eth­i­cal (if not il­le­gal) ma­nip­u­la­tion out­side of the world of tourism sur­rounds Polo­likashvili and may cost Ge­or­gia the re­con­fir­ma­tion of their can­di­date's nom­i­na­tion when the UNWTO Gen­eral Assem­bly con­venes in China on 11 Septem­ber 2017.

The world of tourism is cry­ing “foul” as at­tested to by com­ments re­ceived to an opin­ion poll con­ducted by eTN's UNWTOWire web­site. Polo­likashvili's nom­i­na­tion needs 2/3 of all mem­ber coun­tries at­tend­ing the Septem­ber Gen­eral Assem­bly to agree be­fore Ge­or­gia is rat­i­fied to lead the UN Agency as of 2018.

Ac­cord­ing to eTN, con­firm­ing a nom­i­nee at past elec­tions was no big deal, ex­cept for a near-tied score for a third term of France's Francesco Fran­calli at the UNWTO Gen­eral Assem­bly in Sene­gal, af­ter Spain raised ob­jec­tions.

So what hap­pens if Ge­or­gia's nom­i­na­tion is re­jected? There is no clear rule in place. Ac­cord­ing to ver­bal state­ments re­lated to eTN as com­ing from the cur­rent sec­re­tary-gen­eral Taleb Ri­fai, the Gen­eral Assem­bly may re­fer the elec­tion back to the new Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil, which will be com­prised of dif­fer­ent mem­ber states and could meet early in 2018. Al­ter­nately, Ri­fai could stay on or ap­point a deputy to lead af­fairs af­ter his term ends in De­cem­ber 2017.

Should any of the above sce­nar­ios tran­spire, I doubt that the SADC and AU would change their stance in sup­port­ing Zim­babwe. I also doubt that Sey­chelles would stand up to threats of AU sanc­tions even if St.Ange is will­ing to stand as the is­land's can­di­date for an­other round.

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