The UN's World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has glowingly endorsed Zimbabwe as a tourist destination – and, accidentally, handed President Robert Mugabe a golden PR opportunity along the way.
Yes, that's right: this is the same Robert Mugabe who dabbles in ethnic cleansing, violent crackdowns on his opponents, vote rigging and bankrupting his country. (See Avaaz's past campaigns on this.)
The UNWTO has chosen to hold its 2013 general assembly meeting in Zimbabwe and Zambia: as the state-run Chronicle newspaper noted, the meeting is "set to become the biggest endorser of the country's new tourism brand: 'Zimbabwe a World of Wonders'". But the 88-year-old pariah and his ally Zambian president Michael Sata were eager to spin that into an an endorsement not only of their countries, but of the leaders themselves.
During a celebratory ceremony at Victoria Falls on Tuesday, UNWTO chief Taleb Rifai – as quoted in the Herald newspaper – said: "I was told about the wonderful experience and the warm hospitality of this country… By coming here, it is recognition, an endorsement on the country that it is a safe destination."
Endorsing Zimbabwean tourism is one thing – it's kind of UNWTO's job. But Mugabe managed to crash the endorsement. The Zimbabwean press talked about his "UNWTO ambassadorial role", leaving the foreign press gobsmacked and the UNWTO press office backpedalling frantically – yes, they asked Mugabe to be a "leader of tourism"; but then, they ask just about every other world leader the same thing.
Was this just a moment of wires-crossed ridiculousness, or a genuine credibility issue for the UN? Share your thoughts below...