The fair will feature: ‘materials, manufacturing & technology, leather shoes, garments and goods, chemicals, machinery, components and accessories’. Side events such as ‘buyers/sellers meeting, investment forum, Pan-African competitiveness forum’ will also be held.

Ethiopia hosted Meet In Africa 2004 and the AALF is obviously building on the experience gained on that occasion. In fact the basic agenda of AALF is that of Meet In Africa. Although nobody confirms or denies, one can expect that it is the intention of the organisers to turn this fair into a yearly event.

The initiative can certainly not be faulted, on the contrary, and in an earlier Limeblast I have advocated the necessity of a real all African leather fair which is not subjected to political infighting or ego boosting. I wish the AALF well and lots of success in order to make it worthwhile for all, exhibitors and visitors alike, to return also in coming years.

Ethiopia and the Ethiopian tanners are investing a lot of money and effort to make the country become one of the fastest growing leather producing countries on the continent. AALF is coming at the very moment that the Ethiopian Government is implementing the steps it has taken to promote value addition by taxing semi-processed leathers like pickled and wet-blue as of January 1, 2008. A number of tanneries have updated their machines and are already exporting crust and finished leathers and AALF will be the firstoccasion to have live feed-back on how successful this policy is.

As a historical footnote, Ethiopia has been celebrating its new millennium since September. Ethiopia adopted the Julian calendar introduced in 46BC by Julius Caesar, opposed to the more widely used Gregorian calendar. The Ethiopians, said to be descendants of the Queen of Sheba, are very proud of their heritage and they feel as a country, not only at the level of our industry, that they are on the right track in ensuring sustainable economic development. Ethiopians want the international community to understand their continuous effort to fight against poverty and to promote a correct and constructive perception and image of Africa.

I absolutely love the country but not everything is gold and shining because Addis is not (yet) a town with a large choice of hotel accommodation, although new hotels are under construction and the town is very safe, day and night. On the occasions of international events the two international hotels are extremely expensive and bursting at the seams, something we are used to in Bologna.

Occupancy is almost always at the point of saturation with Addis being the headquarters of the UN for north and central Africa. There are, however, hotels of international standard at the outskirts of Addis I am told.

Taxi fares must be bargained and foreigners are getting ripped off compared to local passengers, specially by the hotel taxis. The fairground is far away from the Hilton and Sheraton and at peak hours huge traffic jams are guaranteed.

One hopes that efficient transport will be provided by the fair organisers. Addis doesn’t offer a huge choice of tourist attractions. For leisure there are several so-called cultural restaurants where you eat delicious local food and see a continuous amazing show of Ethiopian dances.

The fair needs to be extremely well organised and attractive to keep exhibitors and visitors focused over the coming years if the fair aims to be and remain THE all-African leather event.

So, if this fair works out as organisers obviously hope, what will happen to Meet in Africa? The next Meet In Africa 2008 is scheduled to be held in Sudan although I have not yet seen a firm date.

Does it make sense to organise two major leather fairs in Africa in one calendar year? Will the AALF substitute Meet in Africa? The organisers of AALF say that they haven’t conceived AALF to substitute MIA, but how will this work out in reality?

One of the basic ideas of MIA was to give all African countries a chance to host a leather fair. Theoretically that looked great but in reality it was not that easy. It is obvious that the host countries must have a minimum number of characteristics to warrant the organisation of a fair.

Apart from the necessity of having an important local leather industry to attract visitors, it is not always clear what visitors expect in order to turn up and attend a fair. In 2005 an attempt has been made in Nairobi to host a leather fair which turned out to be a great disappointment, in spite of the fact that Kenya is geographically well situated, offers many hotels, tourist attractions and a small but dedicated local leather industry. In spite of all these plus points, few visitors and exhibitors turned up.

The basic ingredients are there in Addis to make AALF a success. ELIA is well organised, knows what it wants and is capable of making decisions, something that has been the biggest obstacle to overcome in Meet in Africa meetings due to personal agendas, jealousies and politics. Ethiopia is making a serious commitment to the development of its homegrown leather industry, which is generating important results.

With the last edition just behind us, I’d like to dedicate the final part of this Limebast to Lineapelle. The weather was excellent, the bottle necks at the Bologna tangenziale less, hotels expensive and booked as before. The number of visitors on all three days was visibly less than earlier editions with many stands scarcely visited and others overfilled.

Most Italian producers of sole leather are quite worried due to the fierce competition from Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. The strong euro quite clearly does favour the Americans and not the Europeans. It seems that there is a shift in manufacturing location for sole leather like 30 years ago when the Italians took over from the German and British sole leather producers.

Apart from this negative note on the sole leather front, it seemed that exhibitors were generally happy. The most remarkable stand was like in all recent years, the one of Conceria Dolmen with a large number of fashion shoes and bags kept under the vigilant eye of a team of security guards.

One got the distinct impression that goat and redhair sheep are gaining terrain at the expense of hides. The dominating pallet of colours was the variation of purple in all its shades with a prevailing accent on laminated and patent leather.

Sam Setter