Khartoum a success!

16 November 2009

Meet In Africa is supposed to be held once every two years and the 2006 AFLAI General Assembly in Cairo decided that the next, the 6th, edition was to be held in Sudan. Limeblast readers have been informed over the last twelve months about this fair and its problems. The mood whether the Sudanese were actually able to organise this fair went from pessimistic to optimistic and back to pessimistic over the last few months. In the end optimism prevailed and the fair was indeed held from May 4-7 and not without problems.

I have written about the organisation of this Meet In Africa now many times, so I will not bother you again, except for the fact that the organisation of an event in Africa for people to visit is far more difficult than many can imagine. In fact, the road to the Khartoum fair was full of landslides, potholes and other varieties of problems. Ten days before the opening of the fair it looked like the only participants and visitors would be Sudanese nationals, because for foreigners with a visa requirement there was simply no visa support until April 29, one working day before the fair! Those who did not have a Sudanese Embassy or Consulate in their country of residence received the Visa Exemption letter from the Sudanese Foreign Ministry on Friday, April 30. Imagine! The fair programme was available only a week before the fair was to be held.
Anyway, those who intended to go to Khartoum and who received their visa on time actually did go. Curiosity, perseverance and good will were the motto, expecting that the organisational confusion would continue and unpleasant surprises were expected. While transiting for my flight to Sudan I was told that Sudan does not accept credit cards or traveller’s cheques and hence you needed either cash, or cash (dollars or euros). Some visitors needed to ask their home base to send cash via Western Union in order to be able to pay their hotel bills. The organisers should have informed the prospective visitors of this handicap beforehand. And indeed, upon arrival in Sudan, the surprise was there but totally the opposite of what was expected: from the moment of arrival at Khartoum Airport, where temperatures varied from 46/47oC during the day to 40oC in the evening, the organisation was flawless.
The exhibition hall was pleasant, similar to Cairo, well illuminated. No nonsense and functional. The opening ceremony on the evening of May 4 was very good. Business hours at the fair went from 10am to 1pm and then again from 5 to 10pm. Seminars were organised for the afternoon of May 5 and simultaneous translation was available.
It was impressive to note how much government officials were personally engaged in this event. Several ministers attended and special mention is to be made of His Excellency the Minister of State for Industry, Dr Ali Ahamed Osman. Osman who was omnipresent with his wit, expertise and interest underlining the government’s intention to prioritise the leather industry in Sudan.
Many stands were unfortunately empty because some exhibitors and visitors cancelled when they saw that the organisation leading up to the fair was less than ideal. The international character was a bit limited to certain regions in Africa, hence I would say that the fair was a regional event with some extra overseas flavour. Overseas visitors in general were few. All those present I spoke to were very happy. Business was done and contacts were laid down, discussions held and that is what a fair is all about. If I am allowed to give this fair a vote on a scale of 1 to 10, then we are definitely looking at an 8+ and I am not just being kind.
On May 6 those AFLAI members that were present called for a General Assembly meeting. During the Cairo, Meet in Africa last February there had already been a General Assembly meeting during which crucial decisions were made. This meeting in Sudan was more a coup d’état. The AFLAI chairman Mr Mekky was unfortunately unable to attend. Delegates from Ethiopia, Sudan and Esalia called the Cairo General Assembly illegal, and the only Egyptian visitor called the Khartoum meeting illegal. Anyway the meeting was called to order and the Cairo decisions were cancelled. The only board member who attended both the Cairo and Khartoum meetings, the Zambian delegate, voted oddly in Khartoum against his own Cairo vote. He was proposed and elected to the new board, rather than resigning which may have been more appropriate. Cairo called for the MIA 7th edition in 2011 to be held in Cairo as a fixed venue place, to appoint the board members for four years, whereas the Khartoum meeting returned to the itinerary scope of the MIA gathering and the two year appointment of board members. A new chairman, Salah Salim, and a new board were elected. It was also decided, with the approval of the Egyptians, that the next Meet In Africa will be held in Nairobi and not in Cairo. It is obvious that we again have a conflict situation but I firmly believe that all parties involved, who now have different views and opinions, will talk together as a Round Table is in the planning with the aim of ironing out the differences and coming to an agreement that suits all in order to make AFLAI and Meet In Africa stronger. I am of the opinion that maybe these conflicting editions of Meet In Africa 2009 will eventually lead to the desired unity in AFLAI.
On the final day of the fair a visit to the Khartoum ‘Incubator’ training centre was organised. This is a training centre which features a pilot plant tannery, a small shoe factory and a design studio. These centres now appear all over Africa and are actually a great platform for those who wish to enter the commercial and industrial leather sector. The Indian made tannery machines at the centre are said to have cost US$750,000, for which India gave Sudan a loan. Italian machinery experts who attended the visit estimated the machine value to be not more than US$250,000. Most machines were old, very old, hardly painted and probably not reconditioned. The splitting machine and measuring machines were antiques. Maybe that’s why these machines cost so much..!
A secondary visit was also organised to the Khartoum Tannery, which is the biggest tannery in the country. The tannery was government owned but has now come into private hands. The tannery itself is very well planned, but urgently needs repair throughout the site.
Meet in Africa in Sudan closed with a dinner party offered by the State Minister of Industry. My conclusions are that this edition of Meet in Africa exceeded all expectations. Congratulations!

Sam Setter
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