The "Hilarious" Limeblast caused some waves among the "official agencies" that proclaimed themselves "the" representatives of the industry. Martin Ricker had a tough time during the IULTCS meeting in Istanbul, answering questions and accumulating criticism from the inquisition. In the Middle Ages he’d have been tortured and quartered in public.

People that I highly esteem wrote that "Hilarious" did not help the industry and criticised the article. I accept their criticism, something some of the official representatives seem to be incapable of when it comes to my criticism, but I disagree and the discussion that the article triggered proves me right, because the industry is talking about an issue that it refused to talk about openly before.

Whether it will come to a decision that I advocate is yet to be seen and the jury is still out on this. I promised a truce to my critics and for the moment will look on from the sidelines. It’s up to them, the "official representatives", whether this truce will last and turn into a peace treaty or not. I expect results in the coming months! Caveat Mentor!

I like to follow up on issues brought forward in Limeblast. I hate it when you read about an issue in the newspapers and once the glamour is gone, you don’t hear about the matter anymore. Personally I like to know how things went after they made the headlines. With this principle in mind I have proven my dedication or foolhardiness, whatever you want to call it, with my following up on situations that developed in our industry, in Rwanda and Ethiopia for instance, and in this issue of LEATHER International we have a go again at Zimbabwe.

Two years ago, Limeblast April 2011, I wrote about Zimbabwe, where the situation of the leather industry was, and apparently still is, quite difficult. Foreign investments remain at zero level due to sanctions and lack of confidence in the Government and its policies. Affordable money is simply not available locally as interest rates are at an impossible level for a normal industry that aims at profitability.

The once booming Zimbabwean leather industry has shrunk to a pitiful level over the last 15 years. Zimbabwe has, however, benefitted from a number of development projects from a variety of agencies, more than many other countries, for instance neighbouring Zambia or Malawi who once formed together Rhodesia. Before the turn of the century UNIDO financed a programme that dealt with the improvement of the quality of raw hides and skins with the involvement of ESALIA (East and South African Leather Industry Association), now more or less defunct after its charismatic leader Dr Samuel Kiruthu threw in the towel.

The intentions of the UNIDO project were good and the support excellent, but the results were unfortunately sub-zero, because when the next programme, called Pact II (Programme for Building African Capacity for Trade), financed by the Canadian Government, made an assessment of the Zimbabwean leather industry, one of the issues that the local stakeholders came up with was the bad quality of the Zimbabwean hides.

Pact II was an excellent project that helped leather stakeholders in six COMESA countries in a practical way to develop their business. The programme organised, among other activities, business tours to India and Italy where the 15 African participants comprehensively generated business for some US$6.5 million that grew step by step to some $10 million, of which the lion’s share went to the Ethiopian tanners that attended the tours. The Zimbabwean participant was unable to bring back orders or to follow-up on offers and bids generated during these tours. Indians and Italians reported that he disappeared from their radar.

Zimbabwe was assisted with sector strategies, helped to organise a study group, called the CoreTeam composed of leather value chain stakeholders and ministerial technocrats, that was supposed to generate practical ideas to get an industry, that produced millions of pairs of shoes, back on its feet. Regretfully the whole programme was monopolised by local politics and political stooges dominated the scene and in particular the CoreTeam that was charged with masterminding the change in the Zimbabwean leather industry. Ministerial bureaucrats, instead of leather people, travelled with the only purpose of accumulating DSA (Daily Subsistence Allowance) and to make some extra money, rather than to take the industry forward. That is not even the worst. The worst is that these bureaucrats know nothing and are totally uninterested in making things work.

I talked to one of the Zimbabwean industry figures and he rated the Pact II programme in his country "a total waste of Canadian taxpayers money". Apparently this is a realistic opinion formed from his personal experience on the ground, but certainly not welcome to bureaucratic ears. The only benefits that the Zimbabwean leather industry has had so far are meeting after meeting after meeting and after two years of talking nothing to show for it. If instead of all the useless meetings, just ONE real expert had been able to visit Zimbabwe to teach the industry new tanning or footwear manufacturing techniques, it would have been well worth their while and Pact II would have had an important impact on the leather industry in the country.

The CoreTeam has now launched "The Leather Programme" in Bulawayo in mid June. The CoreTeam considered at one point inviting 300 to 500 people. I wonder what is the purpose and what exactly this CoreTeam intends to launch, considering that the industry is 74 years old in this country and hence not a newcomer. It is worrying to know that out of a committee of approximately 16 members, only four are from the industry proper. One is doing his best to destroy LAIFEZ (Leather and Allied Industries Federation of Zimbabwe) and approximately half are civil servants. When UNIDO held a technical meeting in Turkey last April, guess who was sent to attend. You guessed it, an ignorant civil servant from the Ministry.

Out of approximately 500,000 head of cattle slaughtered (FAO statistics), the Zimbabwean tanners only processed 90,000 in 2012. The Ministry states that it only issued permits for the export of 2,000 raw hides, so where are the rest??? The Pact II assessment discovered in 2010 that large numbers of good quality Zimbabwean raw hides are smuggled to South Africa. Officially the exported hides are rejects and sold as raw material for glue for a paltry sum, but in reality these are good hides sold at global market prices, without any benefit for Zimbabwe and its leather industry.

The Zimbabwean economy (including the leather industry) is in a great mess, everybody knows this and, according to the locals, it was deliberately destroyed by the politicians. Leather has been designated by the COMESA/SADC Council of Ministers as one of the six sectors for urgent development. To my knowledge only Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa have actually done anything for the development of the leather industry. I beg your pardon, Zim has done something… it destroyed the leather industry like it destroyed all the money making industries and nothing is going to happen before the next elections.

So how much money is Zimbabwe going to spend on the "launch of the leather industry" in Bulawayo, which includes lunch, drinks, travel allowances for the bureaucrats coming from Harare? And most of all the question is what results will be generated by this launch! The blah blah and expectations of course are huge, but when one faces reality there will be a lot of nothing again. Fifteen years ago the leather industry in Zimbabwe produced good quality hides, good quality finished leather, good quality footwear and it all went down the drain together with the whole agricultural sector. Pumping money into Zimbabwe now is a terrible waste, but when better times come, and they will probably come sooner rather than later when its President calls in his chips with nature doing its job, it is worth considering Zimbabwe as a great country to work with.