Thursday, 21 November 2013

Permanent election mode hurts economy: Mzembi

THE Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Walter Mzembi (WM), was recently in London for the 2013 edition of the World Travel Market, a leading global tourism expo. Journalist Chofamba Sithole (CS) got a few moments with Mzembi just before his address to members of the Zimbabwean community at Zimbabwe House. He addressed the political processes inside the ruling party, Zanu PF, vis-à-vis the challenge of delivering on its election manifesto pledges, as well as on international re-engagement.
 
Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister, Walter Mzembi
CS: In terms of governmental focus on delivering on your manifesto pledges, your party has gone into election mode after the general elections, and there has been criticism that this has taken your eye off the ball. Do you feel that this was a priority to engage with at this moment, and assure the people that the government really does mean business?

WM: We are a very constitutionally compliant nation; elections are held when they are due and we have done that consistently, inspired by the party’s own intra-party democracy where we are also very constitutionally compliant. However, having said that, obviously intra-party contestations take a lot of energy away from the government thrust on resuscitating the economy. And one hopes that we quickly realise that and just readjust our timings to reflect our priorities at this juncture and also begin to induce a culture in the country which does not take all the energy in one direction but distributes that energy equitably through all the national priority areas.

CS: Your elective congress is due next year and that is possibly another major electoral period that your party, and indeed the country, will be going into. Does this permanent election mode not thwart the momentum of efforts to revive and strengthen the national economy?

WM: But that happens in any democracy. When you have Democratic conventions and Republican conventions in the United States, or Conservative, Labour and Lib Dems conferences here in the UK, those are precursors to any governmental or national general election and must be held when they are due. But if you look at ours, what I can concede to you is that perhaps we could have looked at collapsing the intra-party provincial elections with the elective congress to next year so that we focus our attention now on government business and to alleviating the suffering of our people. That I concede to you and in terms of planning I think it should have been done.

CS: Is there not a concern in Zanu PF that the question of a perpetual election mode, especially with the undercurrents of succession politics, may overshadow the government’s main agenda, which is the economy, as we enter into 2014?

WM: Of course, the question of a perpetual election mode is making our people very weary and tired. Whilst they may not have avenues of complaining directly to the powers that be, they do tell us their representatives, that why don’t you give us a break so that we focus on the bread and butter issues at least for one full year before we move on to another election. So clearly for the provincial elections, the timing was not people friendly. They have just come out of an election, they didn’t really need one; that saps their energy and takes their focus away from preparing for an agricultural season and reasserting themselves in business and other economic priorities. So I would hope that it’s something that we take into consideration even as we prepare for the elective congress next year.

CS: On international re-engagement, Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi is reported to have said that since government efforts to engage the West have been unrequited as sanctions remain in place, we will not expend further energy engaging them. Was this a statement merely to goad the other party to be more responsive, or is this the government’s substantive position that you will not attempt rapprochement any further? And would that not be at variance with the reality of your presence here in London as minister of tourism, engaging as you’re doing?

WM: No, what I’m doing here is commercial diplomacy. What he refers to is his brief, which is political diplomacy, the knocking at each other’s doors at the political level that he has to do himself. I’m dealing with a bridge that has always been open since the time of the inclusive government. And that is the people to people diplomatic bridge; nobody can stop that. In this global village, no one has the capacity to stop the people of Zimbabwe from travelling wherever they may want, or the people of the world from visiting Zimbabwe if and when they want to.

This whole issue has a philosophical and spiritual foundation, found in [the book of the prophet] Isaiah chapter 60:11, which says “Therefore your gates shall be open continually; They shall not be shut day or night, That men may bring to you the wealth of the Gentiles, And their kings in procession…” So it’s a Biblical foundation that if you want to enjoy the wealth of the world, you keep your gates open, obviously with your eyes open for intrusion which may not necessarily be bringing wealth and goodwill.

One wants to say that once we have dealt with this commercial side of diplomacy it should certainly be a precursor to facilitate political reconnection. So I’m very clear about what I’m doing here, and I’m sure Minister Mumbengegwi is also very clear about what he’s talking about and hopefully we’ll take him there though commercial diplomacy.

CS: So you’ve not met with any political figures from the British establishment?

WM: I haven’t, except for just handshakes.

CS: Lastly, media perceptions are critical in your sector especially in promoting brand Zimbabwe; from the favourable coverage you’ve had in the British media, can you say that you’re seeing a shift in perceptions of Zimbabwe and also in the reception which you’re receiving as officials of that government?

WM: I think the media is assisting the British government to climb down, because the media is out there and are able to pick political sentiment in other establishments about how this relationship between Zimbabwe and the UK should go. They’re simply trying to assist their own government to climb down from its high horse and understand that we’re both equals in the world of sovereign nations. And by receiving us in the manner that they’ve done – I’ve been the most sought after product here, going by the media reviews - I think they seek to get me to assist them to communicate that message to their own government, that we are not bad for business, that we are a credible partner to deal with going forward. I think they’ve done that job very well in the space that they’ve created for us to communicate our message.

CS: In your own backyard as well, your government as felt itself to be under siege from these powerful international forces and the state media likewise adopted a defensive mode where they are quick to suss out where hostility against the government is coming from. Now, in this new phase of media diplomacy where we notice this climbing down by the British media, do you feel that this is also happening with the state media in Zimbabwe?


WM: I think the new Minister [of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Jonathan Moyo] has certainly taken a very mature and reconciliatory approach with not just what was referred to as independent media, but also with our own state media. He has exercised a lot of restraint and patience with some of the idiosyncrasies that have been taking place there. I get the impression that he wants to take a very mature and collected role to fully assess what it’s beset with and direct our media to play its role of assisting in the packaging of brand Zimbabwe.

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