In my opinion, our African colleagues have a huge potential to control a decent share of the international leather trade but do not get a fair chance to develop. However, they also shoot themselves constantly in the foot. The result is that the African leather trade is and remains in a lousy situation. My purpose is to get people so mad that in the end they will get together, come to their senses, set their petty differences aside and get their act together and organise the real Meet in Africa. The one where the majority of African countries find themselves represented, north, south, east and west.
I have reported recently on the fact that from no Meet in Africa at all in 2008, we now have two Meet in Africa’s 2009 in Cairo and Khartoum. I have been invited to both by the respective organisers ‘to come and see for yourself’. I am flattered that people do take notice of what I write so here is my report following the Cairo show.
In just three months the organisers of Cairo Interleather 2009 have also incorporated Meet in Africa. Time was short but the organisation of the Cairo Interleather trade fair was solidly in place and adding Meet in Africa was apparently relatively easy even if just three months was too
little time to generate sufficient publicity, and thus visitors to the event.
The organisation was almost perfect. At the airport visitors were met between arrival gate and immigration at a chaotic Cairo International and were efficiently whisked through immigration and customs. Shuttle buses were waiting and in no time I was in my hotel. Check-in was handled by externally hired staff who also gave visitors written details about the fair and shuttle bus timings. The result was that from touch-down to getting into your room took less than one hour. Very impressive!
The fair was held at the Cairo Exhibition Centre in two modern, brightly illuminated halls, which featured high-speed wireless internet connection free of charge. Without the shuttle bus it would not have been easy to find the halls. The stands were of individual design except for the small stands. One hall was for Interleather with Egyptian and foreign shoe and leathergoods manufacturers, the second hall was for tanneries, a couple of chemical companies and a machinery manufacturer from Italy. Some foreign tanneries had a stand, some of which were not ready at the start of the fair, a recurring inconvenience at many fairs.
The Egyptian organisers invited all visitors at MIA to a gala dinner like they had done in 2006. The meal was delicious. The organisation was perfect and the entertainment pleasant. At the end of the fair all visitors were accompanied individually or in groups depending on their flights to the airport.
Interleather was very well attended. I would not dare to give you an estimate of the number of visitors but they will be in the thousands. Meet in Africa was unfortunately poorly attended, and visitors were in the hundreds. It was a risk the organisers ran when they decided to incorporate this fair within Interleather at such short notice. There was, objectively, too little time to attract foreigners.
AFLAI held their traditional biannual general assembly on February 21, which decided almost unanimously to organise future Meet in Africa shows for the time being in Cairo. I believe this was a good decision as Cairo is a crossroads between east, west, north and south. The fair organisation seems to work very well, so why throw away this organisational experience and start each two years from scratch. It was proposed and accepted with the initial idea of a regular MIA event in Cairo, which will feature a special guest country. This allows all African countries, even if they don’t organise the fair, to stand in the limelight.
Ibrahima Diané from Mali, vice president of AFLAI, called upon the board of AFLAI and upon all its members to support and attend the Khartoum edition of Meet in Africa being held from May 4th. M Mekki, current president of AFLAI immediately seconded the proposal in the spirit of ‘healing rifts and promoting friendship’ and to boost AFLAI as an organisation, Meet in Africa as well as the African leather industry in general. I understand from the Sudanese organisers that they have appreciated this gesture and have extended invitations to all African industrial associations. For my part I invite all those who have not received an invitation to contact the Sudanese organisers and try their utmost to attend the event. If I say ‘all’ I mean ALL from South Africa to Nigeria, Ethiopia, Congo, etc.
On the last day of the fair the organisers put on a bus for all those who wanted to visit the new Robikki tanning area to which the tanners of the old Cairo tanning area will have to move shortly. I will report on this separately.

Sam Setter
(As special guest/envoy)