Robert Mugabe may be banned from travelling to Britain and many other countries because of his appalling human rights record – but that hasn’t stopped the United Nations from embracing him in a new campaign to boost international tourism.
The 88-year-old Zimbabwe despot was honoured yesterday as a ‘Global Leader for Tourism’ in a special ceremony at Victoria Falls.
The award triggered a hail of protests as critics of the discredited Mugabe regime blasted the move as a ‘scandal.’
He also signed an agreement with his political ally, Zambia president Michael Sata at the shared border between the two countries.
At the ceremony was UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai, who endorsed Zimbabwe as a ‘safe’ holiday destination.
During his three decades in power, Mugabe has dragged the once-wealthy nation into the gutter.
His forced seizure of white-owned farms precipitated the collapse of the agriculture-based economy, leading to rampant inflation, flood and fuel shortages and devastating poverty.
Yet Mr Rifai was quoted by Zimbabwe’s state-owned media yesterday as saying: ‘I was told about the wonderful experience and warm hospitality of this country.
‘By coming here, it is recognition, an endorsement on the country that it is a safe destination.’
The two African leaders also agreed to jointly host next summer’s UNWTO general assembly.
The UN insisted last night that it is not bestowing any official title on Mugabe, saying only that he was receiving an ‘Open Letter’ like other heads of state, such as South African President Jacob Zuma, who have joined its Global Leaders for Tourism campaign.
But the claim did little to quell the outrage from human rights campaigners and Mugabe’s political opponents.
Kumbi Muchemwa, a spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change, the main opposition party in Zimbabwe, said there was no justification for Mugabe being proclaimed an ‘ambassador.’
‘The man has blood on his hands. Do they want tourists to see those bloody hands?’ he was quoted as saying in an interview yesterday.
He added: ‘Robert Mugabe is under international sanctions, so how do you have an international tourism ambassador who can’t travel to other countries?
‘The UN is losing credibility in this process. Does it think people should go to a country where the law is not obeyed?’
MP Kate Hoey, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Zimbabwe, called the move ‘an absolute scandal’ and ‘an affront to the people of Zimbabwe.’
The US is among a number of countries that have issued advisories warning about the dangers of travelling in Zimbabwe, despite its great natural beauty.
‘It is not always immediately apparent what the police deem sensitive. They have detained U.S. citizens for hours for photographing such seemingly innocuous subjects as fruit carts and religious buildings such as churches, mosques, and synagogues,’ it says, adding, ‘You should be very aware of your surroundings before taking any pictures outside game parks and known tourist areas.’