Mr. Mugabe’s ruling party is accused of arresting, detaining, and in some cases killing members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change during the 2008 national elections. He later formed a coalition government with the MDC, after an 11-month stalemate in which the national currency became worthless and inflation soared to more than 1 million percent.
Mugabe is also blamed for a violent land-reclamation campaign, in which armed thugs stormed and took over the property of white commercial farmers, as well as the Gukurahundi counterinsurgency campaign in the early 1980s against the rival ZAPO militant group in the Matabeleland region, which killed as many as 20,000 people.
So Mugabe’s selection as UN tourism envoy is not an obvious choice.
At the Victoria Falls ceremony, where Mugabe and Zambian President Michael Sata signed an agreement to hold the UNWTO assembly, the UN’s Taleb Rifai told a gathering, “By coming here, it is recognition, an endorsement on the country that it is a safe destination."
Zimbabwe once had a thriving tourism industry, both before and after the fall of the racist white Rhodesian government to Mugabe’s ZANU-PF majority government in 1980. Then, tourists flocked to see the gorgeous Victoria Falls or trundled around game parks to see lions, elephants, and rhinos in their native environment. Economic collapse and political instability changed all that, and Mugabe’s hanging on to power for 32 years has given the local tourism industry little incentive to grow. A UN conference will certainly add a little jingle in a few pockets, but once the suited diplomats leave, there is little indication that Zimbabwe’s tourism industry is heading toward a revival.