I wrote about MIA 2008 after the All African Leather Fair which was held in Addis earlier this year, and suggested that the MIA 2008 organizers would do better to get things into shape, acquiring exhibitor pledges and informing visitors, establish conventions with hotels. In short, put a credible organization in place to receive and accommodate participants.

So I Googled ‘Meet in Africa 2008′ for information. Surprisingly, there was no response; hence nothing has been done and we are less than two months from the opening ceremony.

By enquiring further via friends I was told that there was a dedicated website www.miasudan.com (did you know?) and I clicked that. Indeed the website is there but does not give (yet) any precise information and details which a visitor needs to know when he travels to a fair. There is nothing about hotel conventions, transport, airport shuttles or exhibitors lists.

The website states: ‘The coming MIA is in Khartoum during November 15-18, 2008, in the Khartoum International Fair Grounds. It was conceived and implemented as a package of events: a three-day trade fair, seminars, buyer-seller meetings, AFLAI general assembly meeting and visits.  Doing business was placed at its core.

‘This session is the first one to be fully financed from the organizing country even in the subsidy given for the participation of the African country and not only this but as a member of it, the organizers have decided to subsidize the Arab Leather Industries Federation members also to increase the regional and international participation in the event.’

Frankly speaking I understand little of what’s written but by and large the formula is that of all MIAs but there is no agenda of the announced events and seminars. If doing business in Khartoum is at the core of the event, then I guess that the organizers should get into gear and entice the visitors to participate.

According to my knowledge Meet in Africa was handed over by ITC to the Africa Federation of Leather and Allied Industries (AFLAI) after the 2004 event in Addis Ababa at the end of the project cycle. Meet in Africa 2006 in Cairo (not Sudan) was therefore the first one independently managed by African (Egyptian) organizers.

The fact that the event is organized 100% ‘at home’ is to be appreciated but it doesn’t mean that the organization should not be professional or a last minute concoction. As it looks now, and I hope that this will change in the next six weeks, nobody actually knows whether and when the event is taking place.

The website gives no information, so any would-be visitor is already lost before leaving home. Under these circumstances I wonder how many visitors and exhibitors will turn up, apart from the local industry. However, time is very short, too short, and running out. Normally events are organized far ahead to give people time to plan their visit.

The AFLAI and Sudanese MIA organizers probably do not realize that exhibitors and visitors spend a lot of time and money to attend a fair and if there are any doubts, they will simply not turn up. The organizers must also realize that Sudan is at a disadvantage due to the Darfur tragedy. If this edition is not executed with surgical precision and without any flaws, it may well toll the death bell for Meet in Africa.

Visitors were not completely happy in Addis 2004 when the presence of Tony Blair during MIA created access problems. Cairo MIA 2006 was (according to me unnecessarily) criticized for flawed organization and the Egyptian organizers admitted they had started a bit late, which was probably due to lack of experience.

If MIA 2008 flops due to bad organization, the African leather industry may well become orphan of their own continental leather fair and be stuck with the numerous small, internationally insignificant local fairs where visitors are counted by the hundreds and not by the thousands.

Organizing a trade fair is a very serious matter, not something one can approach lightly. You need highly professional experts that must be capable of organizing international events, not a do-it-yourself approach. All major leather fairs like APLF, Lineapelle, Courovisao, Le Cuir à Paris, just to name a few, are planned far ahead, not just months, but at least a year and by proven organizational talents.

People are spending time and money, travel from great distances to attend a fair with the purpose of doing business, not to spend a couple of leisure days. If I go and visit a fair I want to meet as many people from as many different countries as possible in order to discus business, to buy, to sell, to develop.

A visitor and exhibitor must return home with a feeling of satisfaction, like having dined at Louis XIV in Paris rather than in a burger joint downtown. That’s the task of the organizers to attract all these people who reciprocally want to meet each other and make money or lay the basis for making money and return back home satisfied.

This is particularly important in Africa where practically all producers and exporters complain continuously that they have no market access or market visibility, and demand funds from international organizations to acquire access and visibility. This lack is indeed true in many cases, but when you have the opportunity to create the market access and the visibility through a fair like Meet in Africa, which you have wanted to organize at all costs like with this edition in Khartoum, then you must live up to the expectations!

Sudan bent over backwards in order to be elected for the venue place of MIA 2008, whereas many were against it for a number of reasons. Now, even some of those who sustained Khartoum in 2006, are having second thoughts and have withdrawn their support.

For 2008 Cairo was torpedoed with the (unwarranted) excuse that it was badly organized in 2006. Addis was excluded because MIA had been there in 2004. Nairobi has proven not to be the ideal centre for a fair. Reasons are there for grabs.

The AFLAI political infighting created this result and the African industry is condemned to live with it. The fact of too many fairs remains. In November MIA and in January AALF. In my view one big strong continental fair, Meet In Africa, is worth much more than an assembly of small regional fairs.

Why don’t African leather associations get together and organize one big event with the savvy of Lineapelle, APLF and the likes. Politics and prestige must be set aside. Think along practical lines as that’s where the money is for the industry. Organize a fair where you know people will attend not where it is politically correct.

Addendum: It’s now October 22 and I have just been informed that my prediction has unfortunately come true: MIA 2008 has been cancelled and postponed to an undetermined date. The website now states: ‘The executive committees of MIA 6th edition and after consultation with president of AFLAI has decided to postpone the event to a later date which will be communicated as soon as possible after consultation with the partners.

‘We are sorry and regret any inconveniences this may have caused to you. Please contact us for further enquiries.’

This cancellation is unforgiveable as it deprives the African leather industry of a most needed event which was brought into life by the combined efforts of the International Trade Centre and Semaine Internationale du Cuir with the help of public funds. Having reached this regrettable stage is only due to political bickering and great incompetence all over the board, beginning with the fact that Khartoum as a venue was a very bad choice in the first place, followed by the inability of organizing the event, something that has hung in the air right from the beginning.

I felt it coming in January. The only quick fix would be to celebrate Meet in Africa 2008 in Addis Ababa instead of the All African Leather Fair planned for January, and ask/have the Ethiopians organize the event as they have always wanted. I wouldn’t go to Khartoum if they would pick me up in a private jet!

The medium and long term fix would be to put the organization firmly back into the competent hands of the original organizers of MIA, excluding AFLAI, otherwise the whole initiative will go down the drain forever.

The African leather industry has proven again to be its own worst enemy!

Sam Setter