African viewpoint: Jumping for tourists
In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, film-maker and columnist Farai Sevenzo considers the significance of Zambia's tourism minister's daredevil antics.
The news that the Zambian minister of tourism jumped off the Victoria Falls Bridge with nothing but a bungee rope attached to his ankles for safety was welcome news in an African month brimming over with crises.
Mr Given Lubinda's 50-year-old frame plunged 110 metres to within inches of precarious rocks and - to more vivid imaginations - just short of hungry crocodiles and short-tempered hippos in the Zambezi River. All to prove the point that bungee-jumping is still safe in Zambia - and even he could do it.
Money... may be the devil's manure but it makes for good fertilizer”
The minister had been driven to this amusing but drastic stunt by the fate of a young Australian woman who found her bungee rope snapped as she went down the gorge on New Year's Eve.
She fell headlong into the mighty Zambezi, and then swam to safety - reaching the Zimbabwean bank of the river with nothing amiss but a few bruises and a broken collar-bone.
Now Africans have long been schooled in the dodgy unctuous arts of welcoming the tourist dollars.
And we all know the safety of the travellers must be assured or jobs will disappear and hotel rooms remain empty - and which country can afford that in this age of economic drought?
Money, it has been said, may be the devil's manure but it makes for good fertilizer.
Zambia's minister of tourism then expressed a wish to bungee-jump with the young Australian visitor and urged her to return to Livingstone and try again.
We do not know what the minister's wife thought of his first jump but we can be almost certain she may break his collarbone to cancel the proposed second.
The world's media screamed Ms Langworthy's trauma across many headlines.
The young woman was said to have braved the crocodile-infested river to swim to the Zimbabwean side of the river - thereby creating the impression of being "out of the frying pan and into the fire".
Some entrepreneur should pitch the idea of having Zulu weddings for the tourists”
Of course, she was just lucky to be alive - and for that Zambians should be grateful, for who knows what might have happened to the tourist figures had the crocodiles been partial to Australian female, or had the Zimbabwean river bank dissolved into quick sand and swallowed her whole?
But if we know the spirit of the young and adventurous, Ms Langworthy may well have found Zambia blameless and would be willing to return there without the tourism minister's token stunt.
The tourist still matters marginally more than the armies of aid workers who march to Africa - for the tourist visits without an agenda and does not spend more according to "hardship postings".'Grow your own tourist'
But how can they be attracted to visit us more? South Africa's thousands of hotel rooms created for the 2010 World Cup have remained largely empty as tourists tightened their belts.
The poachers are slowly returning to the game parks and a scramble is underway to resell South Africa. Tourists once bought into visiting Soweto, Robben Island and even the jails where thousands were hanged, but new initiatives to lure them in must be sought.
Perhaps some entrepreneur should pitch the idea of having Zulu weddings for the tourists who want a truly memorable day. I am told they are beautiful occasions full of harmonious music and, as any African understands, the option of repeating the ceremony with a new bride makes for welcome variety.
Over in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea the windfall that is the Africa Cup of Nations may well be a windfall in publicity alone.
For as the giants of our football vie for the cup, the vast majority of us will be watching the tournament on television.
The football writers, commentators, scouts and agents will find their way to Libreville easily enough. But the African football fan may find a flight to Gabon must, at best, go through Paris.
And Equatorial Guinea is in any case paranoid about mercenaries since they caught a bunch of them in recent years, and are tight-fisted with their visas as a result.
Travel within the continent for Africans remains a real obstacle to the increase of African-based tourism; the only way real growth can be sustained, some say, is to grow your own tourists.
But still each nation must try to sell itself in any way it can. The Tanzanian Daily Nation reported the other day: "Tanzania beats its East African counterparts in the well-being of citizens, according to a study by a London-based institute. The Legatum Institute's Prosperity Index for 2011 which covered 110 countries as 'an inquiry into global wealth and well-being' ranked Tanzania 96th, Rwanda at 98, Uganda 100th while Kenya was at 102nd ..."
Let's hope the visitors will come to Gabon - where they speak French - and Equatorial Guinea - where they speak Spanish”
Of course the Kenyans I know may well say Tanzania can go ahead and pat itself on the back over a London-based report, but even with the Somalis disrupting our tourism we still have more visitors than you.
And the Kenyan incursion in search of people allegedly kidnapping their tourists has been the serious equivalent of the Zambian bungee jump.
Indeed, this is a military exercise to safeguard sovereignty - but it is the jitters spreading through the tourism spine that need to be halted.
It may be said that other nations hardly sell themselves with their style of governance - The Gambia's beaches are still full of middle-aged European ladies walking arm-in-arm with youthful Gambian men.
And does Somalia's al-Shabab care if the tourists stay away? I am told they may even have a new sales pitch - "Come to Kismayo and get stoned."
All eyes are now on the Africa Cup of Nations. Let's hope the visitors will come to Gabon - where they speak French - and Equatorial Guinea - where they speak Spanish.
What are the chances though of there being a player called Suarez on the Equatorial Guinea bench?
Enough. Time for a bungee jump.
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