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Our first day was consumed in preparing the exhibition stall. The spaces in the designated hall were still under work and were handed over late in the evening. My colleague was doing the hard work and finally it was almost done by midnight.
Tuesday plan was to attend the 2nd Pakistan Africa Trade Conference. Chief guest was the Governor of Lagos State. Several other government officials and dignitaries were also present. From Pakistan, Advisor to PM on Commerce & Trade Abdul Razzak Dawood was there along with High Commissioner of Pakistan in Nigeria and several other officials. Speeches from both sides reiterated pledges to explore and expand cooperation in several sectors.
The Conference and Exhibition is targeting Nigeria and ECOWAS – Economic Community of West African States, which includes Senegal, Gambia, Tchad, Benin, Sierra Leone, Cape Verde, and few others.
Abdul Razzak Dawood said that Africa represented 1.2 billion people and our trade stood only at about 3.5 billion US$ annually. It is an underperformance and must be corrected. Present government of Pakistan initiated a “Look Africa’ policy two years ago. The first conference and exhibition were arranged in Nairobi, Kenya in January 2020. It focused on East African countries Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Djibouti, etc. About two decades ago, those countries had also formed a regional alliance, COMESA – which represented about 400 million people. Don’t know what happened to it later because nothing is being heard of it.
There is no doubt that Africa has a lot of potential and we are waking up late to this reality. India has already deep roots all over Africa and is dominating in many sectors; others are ruled by Europe and US. It may not be easy to penetrate on a large scale, but it is an effort worth taking. Government initiative is appreciable because late is still better than never.
Day one of exhibition was a busy day. Many visitors came in and good discussions took place. As is customary, some casual visitors also come in such shows in countries like ours where time is a valueless commodity. It is no issue really because the exhibitors are quick to judge the fake from real.
Arrangements are especially worth mentioning and appreciating. Considering that expertise to organize large events may not be easily available in Nigeria, it is a great effort. The hall where exhibition has been arranged was busy until a day before. In less than a day, over one hundred stalls were erected in a bare hall by a rag-tag looking army of workers. I saw them and was impressed by their hard work. Small gaps here and there besides, but they got the exhibition running.
The officials were also more active than they are usually credited for. It is common experience and complaint that our embassy staff in other countries do not support visiting Pakistanis. It is also said that they do not do worthwhile effort to build the image of Pakistan or develop business for Pakistan. My own experience does not endorse it. I have seen some wonderful work done by our embassy staff and commercial counselors. Current exhibition is also a demonstration of hard work put up by the High Commission staff. They were working hard before and during the exhibition. I would also like to mention the effort of Advisor Abdul Razzak Dawood who spent the entire day working. He attended the conference, toured the exhibition, met with most exhibitors, and then attended the cultural show and dinner which ended at 10.00PM. Our ministers are not used to doing such work. Today, the High Commission staff and TDAP officers were making rounds of exhibition and asking everyone about their progress.
A few words about exhibitors. I had participated in many such events, but this one came after a rather long gap. The generation of exhibitors has changed, but the habits have not. The employees running the stalls have the same complaints about market, customers, and their employers. The entrepreneurs attending also have the same attitude of trying to take maximum benefit and not giving anything in return.
I would like to comment on this aspect in some more detail in the next post.
To be Continued……
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