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Zambia in festival mode

Zambia in festival mode

Celebrating Livingstone’s participation at the UNWTO
Celebrating Livingstone’s participation at the UNWTO

“Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!” chanted the marching drum majorettes all dressed up in new uniforms with white-gloved hands throwing shiny batons into the air.

So began the unofficial opening of the 20th United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly. The normally busy town of Livingstone was in party mode, and on the Zimbabwean side of the river it was pretty much the same scene. Zambia and Zimbabwe co-hosted this year's gathering, effectively eliminating their respective political boundaries, if only for a week.

Livingstone's main road was transformed into a carnival of floats, lion-masked children, ululating traditional dancers, drummers and performers, all dressed up, having travelled from across Zambia. Tourism is the lifeblood of this town which has officially been given the title of ‘Tourism Capital of Zambia.’

The UNWTO official opening was held two days later with all the pomp and ceremony demanded of such a high profile event - but this one was for the locals. And much more fun! The General Assembly meets every two years, a gathering of the world's tourism community to set new policies and establish better ways to grow global tourism.

For Zambia’s Minister of Tourism and Arts, the Hon Sylvia Masebo, “it was a coup. For Zimbabwe and Zambia to get this real opportunity to market ourselves with Victoria Falls as the best destination, was not easy. Thanks to SADC, to the African continent and to the UNWTO family for having given us that favour and that privilege.”

In the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon “Tourism is an undisputed generator of national wealth, corporate income and local employment. Managed sustainably, it can benefit people and planet alike.”

But back to the fun. The drum majorettes, bands, dancers and singers all snaked their way to the Livingstone Country Club, having their own festive party along the way. Huge marquees had been erected to seat guests and to serve food and refreshments. It was a heady immersion into the richness of Zambian culture - live bands, high energy drumming performances, writhing pythons, snake men and so many different traditional dances.

“We have a rich cultural heritage with 73 tribes.” said Minister Masebo. “We have over 50 traditional ceremonies. We have such a rich culture that is not known.” Most of Zambia’s tribes arrived centuries ago, long before David Livingstone put this waterfall on the world map. It is a strange twist of fate that the explorer’s name happens to be same as the ancient ‘living stone’ called the Kencheyo, upon which the Mukuni kingship is founded. This living stone is central to the enthronement of the new Munokalya Mukuni of the Mukuni royal dynasty under whose dominion and sovereignty Livingstone and the Victoria Falls have been for hundreds of years. Only by swallowing the Kencheyo can the Munokalya Mukuni select be transformed from Mutebe (prince) to His Royal Highness, Senior Chief Mukuni.

More than one billion tourists travelled the world in 2012. It is time this region received a bigger slice of the pie.

Read more about the region in our destination guide:

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 14, Sept 2013)