Demons to Angels...Kaseke turns from loathed to patron saint of Zim tourism

Demons to Angels...Kaseke turns from loathed to patron saint of Zim tourism

It was less than a decade ago when tourism was on the tip of the tongues of Zimbabweans.

Visitor numbers had declined. The West was issuing travel warnings to its citizens against visiting Zimbabwe. The Nyanga Mountains were forlorn. The sacred spirits in the walls of Great Zimbabwe were haunted-lonely. And the majestic Victoria Falls was spraying spectacular mist, water fountains and conjuring rainbows to pretty much the ghost of David Livingstone’s shadow as his colonial statue looked down upon them.

Ultimate transformer...ZTA boss Karikoga 'Chief'  Kaseke

Nobody was coming and something had to be done fast.

Then government had a plan and seconded one Karikoga Kaseke to be the chief welcoming figure of the world to Zimbabwe to market the country and bring the tourist arrivals back to their heyday figures and even better. There was only one problem; this man was hardly liked by his own people and especially a media that seemed intent on making sure his own image was soiled and broken.

How could this man, fighting his own image attacks be the best architect to bring Zimbabwe back on the map as the head of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority ZTA?

He had his work cut out for him. Made out as a demon by the media, would he be up for the challenge? He had his work cut out for him.

Today, tourist arrivals are at a magnificent high, the country’s image has been transformed with both the New York Times and CNN naming Zimbabwe amongst the must visit countries for tourist in the year 2015 and again for 2017 in United states media surveys.

Karikoga Kaseke is still the head of ZTA and the ZTA itself has transformed from being an obscure government ‘shelf company’ to a vibrant institution in Zimbabwe.

In fact, the Chief Executive Karikoga Kaseke was recently again honoured with a leadership award of the year 2016 by the Megafest national business awards.

Kaseke is credited for having changed the landscape of Zimbabwean tourism and its tapestry. Only last year he was also voted the Chief Executive Officer of the year also by Megafest.

Needless to say the ‘demon’ Kaseke is now a much loved man, affectionately known by his co-workers, the media and those in the tourism industry as ‘Chief’. What has changed so much?

The answer is probably ‘everything’.

Assuming office, Kaseke was as embattled as the organisation he was taking over and the industry he was tasked to prop up. A man with his back against the wall is aggressive and he went on an aggressive marketing strategy, much of which was rather abstract.

Many castigated his approach of using non-core methods to bring attention to Zimbabwe’s presence on the map. Beauty pageants like Miss Zimbabwe and Miss Tourism brought attention to Zimbabwe’s thighs...and by default Zimbabwe itself. Concerts by people like Joe Thomas and partnering in events like the Akon Show caused Zimbabwe to be seen as a safe destination to hold international concerts by internationally acclaimed names and therefore safe for the tourist in spite of what international governments said.

Sporting events, most notably the Brazil versus Zimbabwe encounter ahead of the 2010 Fifa Football World Cup also helped bring attention to Zimbabwe being a safe and warm host. Suddenly although these events were not linked to the core of tourism, they sent the right message. Zimbabwe was open and safe for the business of tourism.

They had called him a philanderer and even accused him of eying the girls in the beauty pageants. If he was indeed a great connoisseur for the beauty of the fairer sex, he put that to good use. Bringing the Brazil type hot, sultry, super charged carnivals to Zimbabwe, Kaseke no doubt used that as his master stroke.

With syrupy skin and shining ornaments, the exotic women of the South American continent have lined up the streets of Harare for two years now in the carnival. It’s an event that has become Zimbabwe’s Mardi Gras in spite of it being discontinued for financial reasons. Everything was there at the carnival, sassiness, skin, and drool. An endless amount of drool. Oh and the oestrogen and testosterone! All because of the Kaseke eye for talent and beauty which is not an ‘obvious’ tourism dish but part of a wide array of ingredients that put together the ‘real deal’. With such strategies, ‘KK’ has become the big-kahuna, something his predecessors failed to achieve. ZTA, unlike in the past, has a pilot. It is no longer on autopilot as before.

And the ultimate rule of appreciation for beauty has always been blurred. Look but don’t touch. Touch but don’t taste. Taste but don’t swallow! Karikoga Kaseke has proven the genius that many did not know this man with a military background would be.

And his naughty stiff wit helps make him an affable man. A man with the curve ball joke that he tosses when one least expects. Kaseke is a humorist in spite of his outside facade of being a hard scary man. He keeps a soft cuddly kitten locked up inside off him. With a poker face that tries not to betray that he is a funny man with a comedian inside of him. He who pretends to be schmaltzy but is in fact a classy individual in his quietest moments.

At the Durban tourism indaba of 2012, Kaseke went to a vibrant club in the metropolis. Curiously somewhat teetotaller and non smoker, he sat all night just to understand the aesthetics of the best clubbing life in order to encourage his own Zimbabwean club owners to adopt the tourist friendly practices.

Here is someone who may not be the clubbing man but is willing to spend endless hours sipping on Fanta just to make sure he learns a thing or two about what he does not know or appreciate for the sake of his job. His industry. His passion!

Today Zimbabwe has now started to exhibit in the big events in Spain, The Netherlands, and continues to be a big name in London’s annual World Travel Market WTM although unfortunately the British government still tries to play politics against Kaseke; he was denied a visa to be part of his delegation to the 2014 edition. Still, that does not stop the juggernaut of Kaseke’s charm offensive.

Durban knows when Zimbabwe comes to exhibit. With gems like the Victoria Falls, Nyanga Mountains, Great Zimbabwe, Ewanrigg Botanical Gardens, Lake Kariba, Kaseke is not short of ammunition in his arsenal to market to the world. To write invites on. To brag about! And in the tourism world, he has become the Alpha Male not least because of the beauty of his country and its endless opportunities.

There is even low low talk of him privately wanting to get into the airline industry. Leading from the front one would say!

When he came to the scene, one would think he couldn’t smile. With a stiff upper lip, his lips hardly moved. Almost a decade later, his eyes twinkle and he loosens his lips...and then you know the big man of Zimbabwean tourism is smiling. If only just!

Perhaps if one looks on his shoulders they will see bruises. Burn marks from the rope as he hauled his image and that of Zimbabwe from obscurity to its current high pedestal after the successful hosting of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation meeting jointly hosted by Zimbabwe and Zambia. Although he splits credit always with his parent ministry, there is no doubt that the modest master of magic spells in image transformation Kaseke, or KK, deserves a lot of note for his efforts.

In little less than a decade, Karikoga Kaseke has managed to flip the Dan Brown book round. He transformed his image and that of brand Zimbabwe from bad to god. Hated to loved. From being a demon to an angel.

Suddenly he is the patron saint of Zimbabwean tourism.


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