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The 55th edition of the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) kicked off to a bad start this week with reports of power cuts and low attendance on the first day of the annual event.

The Southern Eye said ‘intermittent’ power cuts rocked the opening day leaving some exhibitors wondering whether Zimbabwe was serious about attracting foreign investment. Livid exhibitors were quoted as saying power supplies went off three times on Tuesday.

Congo-Brazzaville President Denis Sassou Nguesso, who was expected to officially open the event Friday, also pulled out at the last minute citing commitments in the war ravaged Central African Republic. Sassou Nguesso’s withdrawal means the ageing Mugabe will have to step in to officially open the annual event.

SW Radio Africa correspondent Lionel Saungweme said a ZESA official claimed that the power cuts were limited to exhibition hall number 4. The official blamed exhibitors at that particular hall of overloading the system with many gadgets. Saungweme said government officials were not willing to discuss Sassou Nguesso’s withdrawal but it was clear they were very unhappy about it.

ZITF Chairperson Bekithemba Nkomo said some firms reduced the size of stands as compared to previous years because of financial constraints. Since 2000 exhibitors have pulled out in large numbers as a result of the country’s rogue image and economic downturn.

However the USA has returned to the fair after a 10 year absence, alongside Bangladesh and Nigeria. Congo-Brazzaville made a maiden appearance at the ZITF. These developments meant that the number of countries participating at the country’s biggest trade exhibition increased marginally to 19.

China is the largest exhibitor with more than 1,000 square meters of exhibition space followed by South Africa. China has over the years become one the largest investors in Zimbabwe following Mugabe’s so-called ‘Look East policy’.

This year’s fair comes at a time when the ZANU PF government is promoting its controversial indigenization policy which many say is scaring investors away. According to the law, all foreign companies operating in the country must secure 51 percent ownership of shares by local Zimbabweans through partnerships with business people, community trusts and worker share trusts.

Despite indications that some ministers are having second thoughts about the policy, Mugabe is adamant. US Ambassador, Bruce Wharton, told a ZITF business conference in Bulawayo Wednesday that government policies should be ‘predictable and implemented consistently’ so as to boost investor confidence.

Source : SW Radio Africa