BY MTHANDAZO NYONI
THE just-ended 62nd edition of the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) was a success in terms of exhibitor participation, but failure in terms of quality of exhibits.
Running under the theme: “Rethink, Reimagine, and Reinvent Value Chains for Economic Development,” this year’s annual trade exhibition attracted 514 exhibitors and 14 countries.
Last year, the ZITF held under the Covid-19 pandemic attracted 342 direct exhibitors and nine countries.
The fair is organised by the ZITF Company with the aim of promoting trade and investment in various sectors of activity.
This year’s theme, according to the organisers, was chosen with the expectation that in the wake of the economic devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, participants will become future disruptors, able to create and implement strategies for agility, adaptability and resilience as the needs of the environment and economies change.
While ailing state enterprises and parastatals such as the National Railways of Zimbabwe, the Grain Marketing Board and the Hwange Colliery Company returned to the fair, Alpha and Omega Dairy — a fresh milk and dairy products company owned by the late former president Robert Mugabe and his wife, Grace, failed to exhibit.
The company also failed to exhibit last year.
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During its heyday, Alpha and Omega Dairy was adjudged as one of the best exhibitors at ZITF, receiving multiple awards from 2015 to 2017, the year Mugabe was overthrown in a military coup.
In terms of the number of exhibitors, the fair was well subscribed compared to 2021 due to overwhelming exhibition space demand, ZITF organisers ended up erecting a marquee tent to accommodate close to 60 exhibitors.
The international trade showcase also managed to attract 71 new exhibitors. Fourteen countries, including Malawi, Japan, Mozambique, Namibia, Indonesia, Zambia, Angola, South Africa, Belarus, Ethiopia, Kenya, Britain, Tanzania and Botswana, took part in the fair. It was worth to note that Britain, which was represented by its embassy in Zimbabwe, also took part after a long period of non-participation.
Zimbabwe’s former coloniser, together with other European Union countries, imposed sanctions on the country in 2002 in protest at human rights abuses and violations of democracy under Robert Mugabe administration.
Belarus, which has taken interest in the country’s mining, transport and energy sectors, brought eight companies that showcased machinery and equipment for agriculture, mining, transportation and engineering.
Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce vice-president Golden Muoni said they used the fair as an industry to set the tone for the coming edition of the trade fair.
“Not much to our expectations. As we are coming from this pandemic, obviously it was necessary for us to set the tone for industry and the country. There were not many international companies, signaling a fatigue brought about by Covid-19,” Muoni said.
“So I think this one is just setting the tone for the next coming 2023 trade fair. This is what many companies would be geared for. My assessment is that I didn’t see much in terms of business vibe. So let’s set the tone for 2023 to 2025.”
Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries vice president Joseph Gunda said even though they have not yet completed their survey, ZITF 2022 was a success.
“We had a growth in exhibitors. I think the approximate figure there is about 528 exhibitors,” Gunda said.
“So the impact is going to be felt. Judging by the numbers that we saw, it tells a story that there’s a keen interest in people wanting to showcase their products and to engage with each other.”
ZimTrade chief executive officer Allan Majuru said the fair was good “because the enterprises, which we sponsored to exhibit at the fair managed to meet with potential investors who want to put money into their operations.”
Bee’s Honey technical director Welcome Bhila said the trade showcase has been better than the previous years in terms of business generated.
“We have been exposed to local and international markets. The business we generated from here was good,” Honey said.
Balzer Trading sales representative Martin Manjoro said: “It has been an eye opener and we got so many inquiries. This will go a long way.”
Economist Stevenson Dhlamini said this year’s ZITF was very well subscribed and the standard of the exhibitions was quite high.
“This is reflecting the economic trajectory that is improving,” Dhlamini said.
“The increased number of international exhibitors also is a plus on the side of the organizers.
“Perhaps what needs to be improved by the organizers is the size of the stands because some exhibitors had to be turned away because of over-subscription.”
The discussions held during three major conferences resonated well with the theme. Unlike other years, the conferences were re-formatted to address specific stakeholder feedback including a wider diversity of views in their programming, increased opportunities for engagement and networking as well as a focused and solution-oriented outlook.
In other previous conferences, speakers would come and deliver speeches with little or no engagements taking place.
However, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga who was a guest of honour at two conferences—ZITF international business conference (ZITF IBC) and Connect Africa Symposium—did not respond to questions from the floor.
During the ZITF International Business Conference (IBC), there were frank discussions on the country’s progress towards structural transformation and moving the economy up the value chain in line with the National Development Strategy 1.
The ZITF Diplomats Forum held on Thursday proved to be relevant for business and diplomatic exchanges. With a pan-African flair, the event brought local and regional political leaders, key economic players and investors together in discussing and sharing solutions to the socio-economic challenges across the African continent.
The focus of the event was on strengthening trade and productive integration through industrial policy, which harnesses regional value-chains.
The programme consisted of presentations, panel discussions and breakaway sessions in key thematic areas –industrial and trade policy, infrastructure development as well as innovation and the digital economy.
In addition to regional policy makers in the areas of industrialisation, trade, ICT and infrastructure development, the programme line up also featured local industrialists, business leaders, and development practitioners.
This year’s ZITF also had platforms targeted at the youth to discuss topics such as education and innovation.
The platform, according to Industry and Commerce minister, Sekai Nzenza Nzenza, aimed at examining how best the future leaders could be empowered and how best they could benefit from current initiatives.
These events included the Scholastica Conference held on Tuesday, which ran under the theme: “Economic development through innovation and heritage: Promoting talent and skill-based education”.
The forum brought together learners, education experts and career advisors to share information on strategic human capital development in order to create a self-sustaining and enterprising economy.
Career guidance sessions and presentations also ran parallel while the Innovators’ Forum ran under the theme: “Innovation for Sustainable Value Chains.”
The session incorporated a pitch competition, a hackathon and speaker presentations.
The forum provided a platform for young innovators and entrepreneurs to highlight their innovations, network and exchange knowledge with their peers, with a view to reviving the industry.
Time is money, so goes the adage.
During the three major conferences which were held concurrently with ZITF, The Standard realised that they all started late due to late arrival of the guest of honour.
For instance, ZITF IBC and Connect Africa Symposium, which were both officiated by Chiwenga kicked off around 11am instead of 8am according to the programme.
This forced event directors to rush the speakers, something which is not fair.
This publication also realised that companies were reluctant to dish out branded materials due to tough economic conditions currently prevailing in the country. Visitors who spoke to The Standard on Friday, a public day, complained about the steep entry fees.
“They were demanding US$5 per adult and US$3 a child, which I regard as too steep considering our economic situation,” Memory Dube, a mother of four, said.
By charging unaffordable fees, the organisers denied exhibitors a chance to sell or advertise their products to a large number of people.
The ZITF Company charged US$20 as entry fee during business days. On Friday, Zanu PF supporters turned up in their numbers, a sign that in Zimbabwe politics takes precedence over economy.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa officially opened the ZITF on Friday.