13 January 2013

Ethiopia: Socially Bad Exhibitions


Incongruence between reality and illusion are common in Ethiopia. It is often true that actions lag behind decisions and Ethiopians give many excuses for their failure.

But, it is only in the latest Christmas Exhibition that I witnessed that this popular trait has slowly diffused in to the basic institutions of our economic system. It was indeed sad to witness that failure is allowed to prevail, despite its obvious impacts.

As the order of the day requires, the Chamber system, which represents the infant private sector of the nation, outsources exhibitions for private organisers. The process obviously serves all the stakeholders, including private businesses, the Chamber, and the organisers. However, confusion prevails when the time to account for responsibilities comes.

My visit to the latest exhibition left me with the sense that the whole exhibition scene is turning in to a traditional market place. There appears to be no standard for the goods and services presented at the events. Every other cheap and substandard commodity appears to be exhibited.

To make it even worse, most of the exhibitors are repeat vendors who are seen again and again, year after year. It puzzles me as to how they continue to assume the same spot year after year. It is by no means justifiable to organise such a predictable event after making a huge investment.

In any of the exhibitions, in the various countries from the United Kingdom to China, that I had the opportunity to attend, the standard of the goods and services exhibited were given paramount importance. Only goods and services that fulfilled the set standard for the event would have the chance to show to the public.

Similarly, the exhibition site should be designed in a way that fits the purpose of the event and the preferences of the visitors. Pavilions would not simply be allocated arbitrarily to vendors. Instead, they would be made to fit the defined purposes.

What I saw at the latest Christmas Exhibition in our fair city is far from the international standard. It all rightly shows that the players, including the Chamber and the organiser, lack the essential knowledge of organising exhibitions. They seem to have laboured little to learn from the openly available information on the purpose and essence of exhibitions.

Frankly speaking, the exhibition site is inappropriate for showing merchandise and accommodating large groups of people. I have seen exhibitors struggling to breathe under the warmth of the halls. The micro-climate of the halls was all but roasting hot.

The numerous ventilators fixed on the roof were unhelpful. Rather than bringing in new air, they were seen distributing the warmth evenly around the hall.

No one was seen trying to solve the problem, as exhibitors helplessly struggled to make sales under the warmth. It is indeed shameful for both the Chamber and the organiser to leave their clients in such a calamity.

I cannot imagine how after paying 14,500 Br for a six by six pavilion one cannot get a suitable environment in which to entice customers and make sales.

Where is all this money going, then, if it is not being spent on updating exhibition halls? The least that could be done is to install an air conditioning system.

Showing even more neglect from the organiser and the Chamber is the setup of the halls. The halls have been set up to accommodate as many exhibitors as possible, and as a result visitors have a very limited space in which to move in. In addition, the doorways are narrow, further limiting the movement of people as crowds gather around the door while entering and exiting.

What is more worrisome is the growing popularity of traditional drinks on the exhibitions. Scarce in the ordinary market, traditional drinks such as Tej and Tella are popular commodities, making huge sales on the exhibitions. It is saddening to see alcoholic drinks being sold to underage teens so casually. Both the Chamber and the organiser seem unconcerned about the negative social impacts of their exhibition.

It is after witnessing the provisions and standards of the latest Christmas Exhibition that I started to question the importance of it. If these problems are here to stay, I do not see the benefit of having holiday exhibitions.

After all, our fair city is not short of traditional market places. What it seeks is a standard exhibition centre that lives up to the expectations of its residents. And it certainly would not like its youth be corrupted in the name of exhibitions and trade fairs.

If the whole game of holiday exhibitions is about promoting trade and investment, then, the Chamber ought to establish a standard that will make it comfortable, healthy and socially beneficial for all involved.

Getachew T. Alemu Is the Op-Ed Editor for Fortune. 

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