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The European Union (EU) tourism council has awarded Zimbabwe for being the ‘best’ tourism destination of 2014, praising both ZANU PF and Robert Mugabe for turning the local industry into a “well managed powerhouse.”

The General Assembly of the Bucharest based European Council on Tourism and Trade (ECTT) announced this week that Zimbabwe was to be awarded the World Best Tourism Destination Award for 2014. The EU group also declared Zimbabwe the Favourite Cultural Destination in 2014.

The council cited the preservation of the country’s natural wonders, aances in ecotourism and the successful hosting of last year’s UN World Tourism conference in Victoria Falls, as the reasons for the award.

The council, which also named ZANU PF Minister Walter Mzembi in its praise of Zimbabwe’s tourism industry, said in a statement that the award will be presented to Mugabe in Harare, calling him “the most outstanding personality of today Africa.”

The EU group is now facing criticism for praising ZANU PF and Mugabe, despite the regime being accused of undermining efforts to turn the country’s tourism potential into a real success.

Johnny Rodrigues, the Chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) slammed the tourism award as “a joke.”

“It’s just one hell of a big joke when everything is in turmoil. Even at the UN conference, they transported animals to the area from a different area, and it was just a false picture. It’s not like that in reality,” Rodrigues said.

He added: “It’s frustrating because (Zimbabwe) is supposed to be the jewel of Africa, but it’s not. There’s so much false propaganda that goes with this and it’s not showing the true picture of what has actually happened.”

The UN faced international condemnation (TEXT LINK: http:www.swradioafrica.com20130820un-hypocrisy-slammed-ahead-of-zim-tourism-meeting) for allowing Zimbabwe to host the Tourism conference, just weeks after a highly disputed election saw ZANU PF reclaim power.

Rose Benton, from the London based protest group the Zimbabwe Vigil, said on Wednesday that the EU’s tourism award was likely part of ongoing efforts by Brussels to re-engage with ZANU PF. She told SW Radio Africa that the tourism council was “sanctioning an illegal government.”

“It is rather sickening that they are praising ZANU PF and Robert Mugabe in this way, especially since Mugabe is responsible for so much hardship of Zimbabwe’s people,” Benton told SW Radio Africa.

Tourism and conservation efforts in the country meanwhile are being undermined by numerous issues, including the takeover of conservation land by ZANU PF officials and an ongoing poaching crisis. The situation that has since seen the US wildlife authority issue a ban on the import of hunted elephant trophies from Zimbabwe, with the unlawful allocation of hunting licenses, questionable management practices and a lack of effective law enforcement, being pegged as the major factor in this decision.

National Parks in 2012 issued hunting permits to 25 so-called indigenous ‘farmers’ who were given land in the wildlife-rich Save Valley Conservancy. This was said to be part of the government’s ‘wildlife based land reform’ exercise, saying beneficiaries have been allocated 25-year land leases in conservancies throughout the Masvingo province.

The trophy ban also comes of the back of the poaching crisis that hit Hwange National Park last year, where hundreds of elephants were killed by poachers using the deadly cyanide chemical. At the same time, there is a fresh threat to Zimbabwe’s protected Presidential Elephant Herd, following the takeover of a piece of land in Hwange that serves as the herd’s home range.

That takeover defies a Cabinet directive from last year that the land was ‘state owned’ and all offer letters for it must be withdrawn. Conservation groups meanwhile have raised concern for the safety of the Presidential elephants, because the woman who has claimed the land is related to a local hunting operator.

Source : SW Radio Africa