In July and August I dedicated Limeblast to market reports. There are, however, also other types of reports, far more expensive and, until now, while I knew of their existence, I had never actually read one. By chance I have come across a few lately and have read them, an experience I’d like to share with you, because in the end we all pay for them.

I am talking about reports featuring 50/60 pages that contain 20/25,000 words and which deal with the leather trade in the developing world. These reports are prepared by professional marketing organisations who do local research from their air-conditioned hotel rooms, send out questionnaires to a range of people, work the phones and who dig into the libraries of the UN, FAO, UNCTAD, WTO and another series of acronyms.

The countries under consideration depend on who commissions a report. Yes, these reports are commissioned and I wonder how much is being paid for them. I have heard figures that come close to tens of thousands of US Dollars, the equivalent of 20/+ SFFs which is my unit of measurement.

The major ‘beneficiary’ of those reports is Africa, or rather the African leather trade.

All reports deal with ‘restraints to marketing and trade’, ‘livestock resources’, ‘leather production’, ‘quality concerns’. All are plastered with graphs and tables. All come to the same conclusions, that generally quality is bad, business difficult. None of the figures reported in those graphs and tables coincide, despite the fact that all reports talk about the same continent. They are all the same when you go down to the basics. They could even come from the same word processor.

Do we need all those expensive words such as ‘micro-macro economical factors that influence GDP growth in SSA’ (Sub Saharan Africa)? Do we need an ‘Africa Competitive Index?’ You don’t have to be Einstein to understand that ‘external aid in improved policy environment is beneficial to economic growth’ whereas you do need to be Freud to understand what it means by ‘External aid is decreasing while policy environment is improving in SSA.’

Isn’t it an illuminating thought that ‘SSA countries should take the responsibility for growth but that a number of the factors effecting trade and growth are external to the countries?’ What sense does it make to state ‘business climate could be improved through the elimination of hidden import barriers for business transactions’ if you don’t state what those hidden barriers are.

In the same report is written that ‘it is essential to keep an ‘honest court system’. How clever! In a table I saw Taiwan was mentioned with the addition ‘province of China’, which rings a bell about how careful the author is to be politically correct.

I have stumbled over a number of acronyms: HRD, TNCs, FDIs, EPZs, PPPs etc, that clearly show that either you waste a lot of time finding out what they mean, or you simply have to belong to ‘the club’, in which the club means the number of organisations that push these useless and expensive reports from one desk to another.

Yes, I believe these reports are totally useless, except of course for those who commission them, providing a good excuse to keep their jobs, and the authors of the reports who make a living off them. The reports simply state a situation that everybody is acquainted with, contain it in a flood of words which comprises a 60-page report.

Since we, the people of the trade, already know from experience all the problems that are listed in the reports, I wonder why we need these reports. There would be some use for these reports if there would be some organisation and/or government that would actually do something about the situations that are described as negative, and actually implement the (alas few) positive suggestions that are made.

What is the worth of a conclusion: ‘Africa’s success will come from a combination of internal reform and well-oriented external assistance by the world community. Development programmes should acknowledge the fact that social cohesion and the fulfilment of basic needs are determinants of economic growth. Crucial investments are needed in health, education and infrastructure to raise living standards in African countries?’

If you show this conclusion to John Doe in the street of Kinshasa he’ll become hysterical with laughter, because his question was where he could find a job in the leather industry to make some money to buy himself some food.

Now listen to this ‘recommendation’: TNC’s decision making is influenced by availability and cost of raw materials, labour productivity and skilled labour in the work force and large markets or access to foreign markets for expansion. Identifying and targeting potential investors in this group should be an active and permanent role of the export promotion institutions.’ The smallest illiterate merchant out in the bush knows that.

The author of this phrase is obviously paid on a word-basis as he could have said the same thing with half the number of words. My point is that he says nothing, nothing we don’t know for the past 25 years, and he just opens the door to more analyses, more committees, more reports, more doing nothing.

In fact the author finishes with ‘the results of the analysis, the conclusions and recommendations of the present paper should provide a platform for initiating the dialogue following the guideline for PPP at the sub-sector level.’

Remember the guy in the street of Kinshasa? He’s dead, and he died of hunger waiting for the ‘dialogue following the guidelines’ to enter into a practical stage where he can find some bread on the shelf! He’s dead because the help institutions are talking, deliberating, dialoguing but doing nothing. He’s dead because those who requested some credit to start a small industry in the leather trade were turned down.

There is no money I was told when I begged for bread crumbs to build an SFF. Of course there is no money, because it ends up in reports, fact-finding missions and castles built on clouds. He’s dead because those big tanneries built in Africa (remember the letter from Tanzania) with international public money are closed, because the owners are bankrupt, unable to buy spare parts or chemicals to process the hides that are rotting away.

I know a number of people who were in Casablanca listening to seminars where they were told how easy it was to be financed. But when they knocked on the door of those who had created the illusion of help, they were turned down. No collateral, no financing. Now, how can John Doe in Kinshasa come forward with collateral? The tent under which he is living? A life insurance?

Please don’t misunderstand. I am attacking the international organisations because I recently read their various reports, but also our industry itself is no better. What concrete implementable proposals have come forward from the leather traders’ meeting, the ICT?

I recently asked AFLAI and CNCC to help me find an abattoir in Tunis to place the SFF for demonstrations during MIA. I received a print from the yellow pages, the same one I had already found myself via the internet and when I asked for some assistance to actually conclude an agreement with an abattoir, they disappeared.

Esalia and CFC disappeared as well where I am concerned. They don’t like the tone of my messages. That, however, is nothing new. They are part of the queue.

We all know the problems, let’s find and implement some solutions.

Sam Setter