THE Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF), which used to attract dozens of international exhibitors showcasing new products, technology and ideas, now resembles a huge flea market due to the continually imploding economy.
Zimbabwe Independent Comment
The annual trade showcase, this year snubbed by the country’s close ally, China, as just a handful of exhibitors from the country turned up, is a reflection of an ailing economy characterised by a debilitating liquidity crunch as evidenced by the current acute cash shortages, dwindling capacity utilisation now down to 34,3%, aware of company closures and massive job losses, among other problems.
Despite the best of efforts by the trade fair management, the ZITF now features mostly small-to-medium enterprises as well as small-scale operators with flea market-like set-ups. There is neither quantity nor quality at this year’s exhibition.
ZITF has over the years gradually deteriorated in terms of the mix and quality of exhibitors, in sync with the economy which has been on a free-fall since 2013. Zimbabwe has suffered massive de-industrialisation due to an ongoing economic crisis, with retrenchments feeding the rapid growth of the informal sector.
The informalisation of the economy is further confirmed by a report by the International Labour Organisation which says that only 5% of the country’s population is formally employed. The crisis that is mirrored in the low turnout by exhibitors at the ZITF has been worsened by policy inconsistencies as reflected by the indigenisation laws which continue to be a large albatross around the country’s economic kneck.
Nothing illustrates the toxic nature of the empowerment policy than the fact that President Robert Mugabe has been repeatedly clarifying the programme which he crystalised into law nearly a decade ago.
The confusion spawned by this damaging policy was evidenced by the nasty fight between Indigenisation minister Patrick Zhuwao and Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa over the interpretation of the law. Zhuwao later admitted he had misinterpreted the law only after Mugabe had read the riot act to him. This chaos explains concerns expressed by the nearly 80 business delegations that visited the country last year.
It is now symbolised by the low levels of participation by foreign exhibitors at the ZITF. The shunning of the trade fair exhibition by foreign companies also further explains the meagre foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows.
According to a United Nations report on FDI, Zimbabwe received US$545 million in FDI inflows, a pale amount compared to neighbouring countries in Sadc such as Mozambique, which received US$4,9 billion, almost nine times more, South Africa (US$5,7 billion) and Zambia (US$2,4 billion).
Addressing delegates at the International Business Conference hosted by the ZITF this week, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa said government is making efforts to revive domestic industry.
The problem though is that Mnangagwa made similar claims at last year’s trade fair with very little in terms of tangible results a year later. If anything, the situation has worsened since then. As long as rhetoric by government is not matched by action on the ground, the ZITF could soon be reduced to an exhibition of vendors and informal traders as the economic crisis deepens.