While the fight for independence in much of Africa was motivated by the desire by Africans to be masters of their destiny, through being owners of resources, it also had a lot to do with re-establishing an African identity through the eradication of colonial borders by reconnecting across borders and growing traditional ties that had been severed by colonial subjugation.
Years after the decolonisation of much of the continent, the journey towards finding each other across our borders remains a tortuous one with deadlines for meaningful integration being missed so often it has become routine.
Zimbabwe and Zambia have in the past week demonstrated what African solidarity can achieve not just for two countries but the whole continent since the spotlight is on Africa due to the ongoing United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Livingstone in Zambia.
The two countries put in place measures to facilitate the smooth movement of people across their borders for the duration of the UNWTO assembly. What this has proven is that the long-awaited Sadc uni-visa system is quite workable and long overdue to facilitate the growth of tourism in the region and beyond.
We reported yesterday that Sadc was likely to expedite the adoption of a new streamlined visa system after its ministers at the UNWTO expressed their commitment to the facilitative visa system.
Such optimistic statements have, however, been made since 1998 when Sadc members signed a Protocol on the Development of Tourism. The protocol noted that the uni-visa was important as it would enable international and regional entry and travel of visitors to occur smoothly and its operational date was initially end of 2002.
After failing to take off by end of 2002, end of 2006 was set as the new implementation date, later moved to 2008 and moved yet again to 2010 before the Fifa World Cup in South Africa. After the failure to ride on the 2010 World Cup euphoria, the target became the 2013 UNWTO General Assembly.
Unfortunately, Sadc has failed yet again to transcend the realm of zealous optimism. The uni-visa was originally intended for visitors from selected "source markets" such as Australia, the Benelux countries, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom and the US initially.
Upon its implementation, expectations are that it will apply to non-Sadc international tourists travelling to and within the region and that it will encourage multi-destination travel within the region.
Interestingly, at a time when much of the world was experiencing a downturn in tourist arrivals, Africa was the only region that did not suffer a decline in tourist arrivals in 2009 and continued with its growth trend in 2010, with the Sub-Saharan region registering 14 percent growth during the period, bouyed by the Fifa World Cup.
Tourism receipts grew from US$28 billion to US$34,2 billion.
Sadc's market share for tourist receipts to Africa has consistently been above 40 percent. Tourist arrivals and tourist receipts in Sadc have grown continuously, from US$5,6 billion in 2000 to US$14,5 billion in 2008, according to UNWTO Tourism barometer 2011.
The uni-visa, it is hoped, would also unlock the tourism potential of transfrontier parks by lowering the boundaries between neighbouring countries in the parks. The visa is expected to be valid for all the countries with transfrontier parks (Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe) and some other Sadc countries where wild animals already freely cross borders.
Despite all these expected benefits, we have yet to see a corresponding level of commitment from governments in the region.
Outgoing Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry Engineer Walter Mzembi put it well when he decried "bureaucratic inertia".
"The problem is on implementation. Again we state what we want to see as politicians. The guys who draw us back normally are the bureaucrats and essentially what we want to see going forward is more and more of these statements at the highest level.
"What President Mugabe said yesterday was a very fundamental statement to say 'Ok you have opened the borders between Zambia and Zimbabwe for this UNWTO, why cannot this happen everyday?'"
The 14-member Sadc uni-visa has been likened by some to the Schengen visa that allows free movement of tourists in the 27-member European Union.
The East African Community is also working on a common visa system, showing the importance of free movement of people in promoting trade and tourism among African countries.
There are countries, such as Botswana, that have voiced their opposition to the uni-visa system citing security considerations while some want the role of the Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa reviewed though when all is said and done, the majority of the Sadc member states are in support of the uni-visa and should follow the example set by animals in transfrontier parks, that know no boundaries and freely migrate between several borders!
Surely, we need more political will than what our leaders have displayed so far regarding the implementation of such agreed regional integration initiatives. It is becoming clear to all that tourism players should complement one another across the region instead of competing since the regional and international tourist wants to sample the tourism product in almost all these countries and the easier we make it for them to visit the better for the growth of our tourism industry.