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Cablegate: Zimbabwe International Trade Fair 2003 -- Low

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

060608Z May 03



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Zimbabwe International Trade Fair 2003 -- Low
Turnout, Low Participation, Low Morale


1. (U) Summary: The Zimbabwe International Trade Fair
(ZITF) is the country's premier trade event and was once a
regional and international showcase. Three years ago, the
number of both local and international exhibitors started to
decline due to economic and political problems. This year
saw the worst attendance since independence in 1980, with
the ZITF boasting only five African countries and two
overseas exhibitors from a peak of 52 countries in 1997.
Even South Africa, Zimbabwe's largest trading partner, did
not participate for the first time since independence. No
head of state officially opened the fair, also a first in
ZITF history. End summary.

Fuel Crisis Affects Local Participation
2. (SBU) The acute shortage of fuel negatively affected
participation by most local exhibitors and visitors to the
fair. A visit to the show by the Embassy's
economic/commercial section indicated lower exhibitor
figures than those announced by official media. For
example, three exhibition halls, normally a hive of
activity, were completely closed and another hall for small-
scale farmers was less than half full. No livestock was
exhibited in the agricultural section of the fair, partly
due to the uncontrolled foot and mouth disease outbreak.
Many press reports indicated that local exhibitors were
prevented from taking up their exhibition space when they
failed to source fuel to make the trip. Despite attempts by
the Bulawayo government to minimize bad publicity by trying
to disperse fuel queues along the main travel routes,
visitors were greeted by kilometer-long lines of motorists
at almost every fuel station.

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--------------------------------------------- ----------
International Exhibitors Largely Fail to Participate...
--------------------------------------------- ----------
3. (U) Through 2001, the Embassy regularly maintained a
stand at the show, including 10 or so U.S. companies and
several individual states. At this year's Fair, no U.S.
company exhibited and most participators were small- to
medium-sized local companies. We did not observe a single
foreign business executive. Among African countries, only
Kenya, Botswana, Nigeria, Angola and Ghana attended, while
global participation was limited to Turkey and the Peoples
Republic of China. (Government press reported Austria's
participation, but we only witnessed a local company that
markets Austrian solar panels occupying the country's former
stand.) Normally high-profile regional and international
figures -- as well as Angolan president Dos Santos,
originally scheduled to open the show -- skipped the Fair,
yet another indication of the serious economic and political
problems the country is facing. (Angola's Prime Minister
represented the country's president after an expected last
minute cancellation.) Even the Government of South Africa,
Zimbabwe's largest trading partner, did not bother to

... While Local Politicians Flock to the Show
4. (SBU) Despite press reports that all accommodation in
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city, was booked as a result of
the show, attendance at the Fair was extremely low-key. In
fact, Zimbabwean government officials seemed to outnumber
business people. The Ministry of Finance Permanent
Secretary, who shared a ride from the airport to the Fair

with us, did not even attempt to offer a positive outlook.
Instead, he fretted that South Africa was soon likely to
switch off electricity supplies to Zimbabwe due to lack of

5. (SBU) The dismal attendance and participation at ZITF is
one more example of an economy in retreat. Despite the
GOZ's attempts to spin this as another glorious success, few
exhibitors, including those from South Africa, saw any
advantage by making the journey to a moribund event.


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