FOR the second week running Harare is hosting an international event –– the fifth Sanganai/Hlanganani Travel Expo, which comes hot on the heels of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair.
The expos, fairs and other high-profile events such as conferences attract much local media coverage but more often than not soon after they are held, they fade from memory as organisers sit back and hibernate until the next event approaches, while agreed resolutions are not implemented.
Zimbabwe has a rich history of hosting high-level conferences and other events, many of which have attracted international attention, but unfortunately the resolutions made at the gatherings accumulate dust on the shelves due to implementation failure.
In August, Zimbabwe and Zambia jointly hosted a United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly at the Victoria Falls.
The meeting was attended by over 100 countries, but despite the media blitz and charm offensive ahead of the assembly, the country has little to show that it held such a huge event.
This is because some of the projects that were linked to hosting the event such as the Victoria Falls airport refurbishment are still to be completed.
Last year, Zimbabwe held a Diamond Conference in Victoria Falls, but the diamond industry’s operations are still as shadowy as they were before the conference a year down the line. Government is still to introduce the new Mines and Minerals Bill to overhaul Zimbabwe’s mining regime despite much talk in the corridors of power.
Extractive Industries activist Farai Maguwu thinks the conferences are nothing more than an elaborate scheme by the political elite to cut personal deals with foreigners.
Maguwu said: “These conferences have become platforms to negotiate corrupt mining deals which have not benefitted the Zimbabwean people. They are platforms for the scramble for Zimbabwean resources with a few politicians pocketing millions whilst communities and ordinary Zimbabweans are condemned to rags and squalour.”
Maguwu adds that mining deals should be negotiated transparently for the benefit of the nation.
“A good deal is negotiated openly with all stakeholders being consulted and not the nicodemous style that has become the norm in this country,” Maguwu added.
In the late 1990s Zimbabwe held two international conferences –– the Land Conference in 1998 and World solar Summit in 1996. Despite hosting the two conferences Zimbabwe is still grappling with serious land issues, while energy challenges are typified by the incessant power cuts whose debilitating effects continue to cripple domestic and industrial operations.
Zimbabwe was the first country to host the World Solar Summit attended by over 100 countries and among other things, adopted a Declaration on Solar Energy and Sustainable Development and launched a 10-year (1996-2005) campaign to implement 300 renewable energy projects around the world.
Zimbabwe has not officially completed its land reform that begun in 2000 as land disputes remain commonplace; neither has it conducted an audit of the resettlement programme. President Robert Mugabe last month said government will steer a new bill to create a Land Commission that will handle all land issues.
But despite resettling new farmers on over five million hectares in the last decade the country is still struggling to produce sufficient food for domestic consumption, with latest reports stating 2,2 million people will require food assistance between January and March 2014, according to the 2013 Rural Livelihoods Assessment.
Academic and social commentator Admire Mare said while hosting conferences may provide a good public relations coup for the country they should be weighed against the benefits to citizenry.
“What is the cost to the national fiscus of preparing for talk shops with little impact on the livelihoods of ordinary traders? It’s about looking at the balance sheet of costs versus the perceived benefits,” Mare said.
Mare added that the country should reevaluate its priorities.
“As long as conference resolutions are binding and contribute to the national development then it’s good for the country, but if they are a drain on the much-needed resources without corresponding benefits then we need to evaluate our priorities.”