A SINGLE stand, manned by one man exhibiting a handful of products was all that Zimbabwe could offer as a window for the world to take a look at its export products during the just ended Ticad Africa Fair in Yokohama, Japan.
Itai Masuku in Yokohama, Japan
In contrast, Botswana, formerly unknown as a manufacturing country, but which is slowly driving itself to be one had a well-organised stand that not only showcased its newly-found manufactured goods, but its tourism and services sector products.
It was not Botswana alone, but all the other African countries that displayed a high degree of maturity and business-like approach in trying to market their wares to the Japanese.
Virtually all the African stands had a Japanese interpreter to facilitate communication with their potential customers. Zimbabwe was the exception.
The exhibition was being run alongside the Ticad conference, through which Japan is moving full speed ahead to forge closer investment and trade ties with the African continent. Given that Japan has a captive market of 120 million people that have disposable income, this was clearly not an opportunity to be missed.
And yet Zimbabwe continues to relish in its world of political relic while maintaining “cordial” bilateral relations. The Zimbabwean contingent was not short of government officials, semi or quasi officials of all colours and shade. The total number exceeded 50. However, they were hardly seen around the conference or exhibition venues.
Instead, the writer was inundated with requests from Japanese businessmen who wanted to do business with Zimbabweans but had not come across a single one. Many of the Japanese wanted to look for joint venture partners in the engineering enterprises, given Japan’s leading edge in such areas. Needless to say mining engineering products were among those on offer.
“This we can make in Africa at affordable prices. We already have done some work in Ghana,” said one Japanese exhibitor, expressing an eagerness to extend the model developed in the West African country to southern African countries such as Zimbabwe.
While Zimbabwe plays host to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly in August, the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority was conspicuous by its absence.
And yet this was a unique opportunity to market Zimbabwe’s tourism products at a one stop shop where thousands of Japanese were streaming through. Many South East Asian Nations, including China and South Korea, were also represented here.
In general ASEAN countries have grown in international importance as a source market for tourism.
Tourism authorities in Zimbabwe could also learn a thing or two from the Japanese on how to promote domestic tourism. For instance, of the 50 million people that visit Japan’s ancient origin Kyoto each year, 90% are local.
The city is bustling with visitors wishing to catch a glimpse of Japanese history, Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, and epochal engineering projects among other attractions.
Great Zimbabwe ranks as one of the most interesting archaeological sites, with world heritage status, but in comparison receives very few international visitors, let alone local ones.
As for Zimbabwe’s prime destination – the Victoria Falls – the brochures that were on the Zimbabwean stand, mounted by Zimtrade, were South African ones where, as usual, the southern neighbour continues to take advantage of the thunderous beauty to its north by marketing the majestic falls virtually as if it is in its territory for business purposes.
It’s not the ZTA alone that failed to take advantage of the expo; the Zimbabwe Investment Authority had no presence either.
This is in spite of the fact that foreign investment in Africa has overtaken official development assistance (ODA) as a major source of funds for Africa.