Eric Bloch Column

Converting challenge to opportunity

  By Eric Bloch

ONLY those capable of gross self-delusion and unfounded, extreme optimism would suggest that all is well with the Zimbabwean economy.  

In fact, to the ot

her extreme, a majority of the business community are almost totally convinced that the economy has been destroyed to such an overwhelming extent as renders it beyond recovery.

Despondency and depression ranges far and wide, be it in Zimbabwe’s industrial areas, business centres, shopping malls, mines and mining offices, or elsewhere.

There is an almost continuous caterwauling that all is lost and beyond redemption.

If this were the characteristic of each and every Zimbabwean in general, and of the entirety of the business sector, in particular, it would be not only an absolute prophecy of doom and gloom, but also a prophecy which will be self-fulfilling. 

Fortunately, however, that is not the case. 

Although the negative perceptions are massively wide-ranging, with ever greater numbers at, or near, the point of no return, there are still some who are not prepared to surrender to the abysmal economic environment.

There are those who are not prepared to succumb to the innumerable business problems confronting them, and who remain determined to overcome the crippling difficulties oppressing their business operations.

Admittedly, those with the continuing resolve to fight on until better times arrive are a minority of Zimbabwe’s economic community.
  Nevertheless, they are still sufficient in number to provide a foundation and a platform upon which the governmentally destroyed economy can be rebuilt. 

One very pronounced element of the fighting spirit of those who are not prepared to give in is adherence to a concept that every challenge also presents an opportunity, and a belief that the opportunity must be seized in order to overcome the challenge.

One of those that have demonstrated, and continue to demonstrate, that resilience and desire to survive is the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair Company which vigorously continues to mount the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) every year, without fail, as well as divers other exhibitions. 

In so doing, it does not only aid its own survival but also that of the economy in general, and the enterprises that avail themselves of the opportunities that it provides, in particular.

ZITF and its antecedents can trace a history of promoting the economy over a period of more than 107 years, commencing with an agricultural show as long ago as 1899 on the same prime site in Bulawayo as now houses ZITF.

Over more than a century shows were staged with pronounced regularity, promoting agriculture, commerce, industry, mining, education and much else. 

The extensive exhibits by both local and foreign exhibitors have displayed furniture and interior décor, tourism and hospitality, engineering and construction, electronics and information technology, transport and automotive products, mining supplies, clothing and textiles, agricultural equipment and implements, seed, fertilisers and pesticides, irrigation and water technology and almost all other facets of economic activity, inclusive of informal sector produced commodities.

Moreover, ZITF has provided a forum for dialogue on diverse critical economic issues through the medium of international business conferences and similar events, generally staged concurrently with the annual fair.  

Inevitably, with the intensifying straitened economic circumstances that have prevailed in Zimbabwe, and which continue to worsen almost continuously, the extent of participation in ZITF has progressively declined. 

In 1991, the fair hosted 1 190 exhibits, of which 552 were non-Zimbabwean, representing 42 foreign nations. 

By 2001 the number of exhibitors had fallen to a low of 585, but during the following four years there has been a progressively increased participation, with a total of 696 exhibitors in 2005, including eight “direct” foreign exhibitors (Austria, Botswana, China, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia), and 70 “indirect” (via Zimbabwean representative enterprises) foreign exhibitors. 

Also of great importance is that over and above the public visiting the fair to witness the array of products on display, it was also visited by 47 689 business visitors last year, some from Zimbabwe, some from the foreign exhibitor countries, and some from Bangladesh, Namibia, Angola, Russia and Kuwait.

The bottom line of the 2005 ZITF was that not only were there 78 foreign countries and enterprises who recognised that the Zimbabwean economy will, no matter how distressed, survive and recover, and that therefore there is benefit in continued promotion of self and of products, but there were also 618 Zimbabwean enterprises who had like recognition. 
They were the ones who were not prepared to submit to the surrounding economic morass, but are determined to do everything possible to survive, and to play a role in bringing about economic transformation.

In other words, those who displayed their wares at ZITF during the years of economic decline were not prepared to be part of that decline, but resolved to “hold their own” in anticipation of better days to come, and to do what they could to assist and hasten the arrival of those better days. 

They were not oblivious to the myriad of challenges confronting them, but were set upon not only surmounting those challenges but also to converting them into opportunities, attracting business and support that their competitors were forfeiting by depression-induced lethargy and destructive attitudes.

Current indications are that, although there is not yet any prospect of an early return to the exhibitor support levels of 15 years ago, ZITF 2006 will again be a vehicle for those with the tenacity and commitment to overcome Zimbabwe’s economic ills.
 
To quote ZITF’s general manager, Daniel Chigaru: “Despite the difficulties that all businesses are experiencing currently, the response for ZITF 2006 is good.”

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