The African Union (AU) Commission has formally endorsed Zimbabwe' Dr Walter Mzembi as the continent's candidate for the post of United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Secretary-General, saying he has the drive and passion to push global tourism to new heights.

Dr Mzembi, who is Zimbabwe's Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister, was last year endorsed by the AU to represent the continent in the race to succeed outgoing Secretary-General Taleb Rifai. Dr Mzembi is due to launch his bid for the post in Spain, the headquarters of the UNTWO, at the end of this month.

In its confirmation letter of endorsement to the UNWTO, the AU Commission, led by its Chairperson, Dr Nkosazana Dhlamini-Zuma, said: It is the firm conviction of African Heads of State and Government, as evidenced by their unanimous endorsement of Dr Mzembi's candidature, that he has the qualifications, skills and competence, the vision and, equally as important, the drive and passion to successfully build on the remarkable legacy bequeathed to global tourism by His Excellency Dr Rifai, and to lead the Organization and global tourism to new heights of relevance, recognition and results, tourism being an effective vehicle for sustainable development, the building of deeperunderstanding between peoples and cultures and for the reinforcementof the quest for greater global harmony and peace.

Dr Rifai's term ends in December this year, with elections for the new Secretary-General set for this August. Dr Mzembi is currently serving his second term as chairperson of the UNWTO's Regional Commission for Africa and has also represented Zimbabwe on the world tourism body's Executive Council.

Among his main aims, if elected into office, is to increase Africa's share of the global tourism business. Africa has over the years only received on average five per cent of world tourist arrivals.

With a membership of 157 countries and six associate members, the UNWTO is a specialised agency of the United Nations and was set up in 1974. If elected, Mzembi will become the first African to have led the organization in its history.