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Disillusion marks the NGO expo 2004
MS Zimbabwe
October 20, 2004

Prior to this years’ NGO Expo waves of hope had run through civil society in an effort to lobby for a NGO-friendly environment. But the event that was supposed to demonstrate the vital impact of NGOs and their work in Zimbabwe was stained by disappointment and frustration. Lack of interest from the government and the public left the participants disillusioned.

On Wednesday 6 October one could see cars and lorries loading equipment and exhibition materials into the big halls at Show Ground Exhibition Park in Harare, which was hosting the third national NGO Expo from the 7 - 9 October 2004. The whole day people were busy building up their stands and showing a lot of creativity and in order to display the nature and profits of their work.

The aim of the NGO Expo, which has been a yearly event since 2001, is to provide a forum for local and international NGOs to meet, share experiences and especially to inform the public about their work and activities. Although the number of participating organizations has increased from year to year, NANGO (National Association of Non Governmental Organizations) as the initiator of the expo would like many more NGOs to be engaged. This year less than 100 organizations attended the expo, which is still a higher number as compared to previous years. But considering the total number of more than a thousand NGO’s operating in Zimbabwe today the participation of less than 100 organisations is still fairly low.

MS-Zimbabwe Partners
Like in previous years MS-Zimbabwe encouraged it’s partners to attend the expo as active members of civil society. The expo provides good opportunities to network and share experiences with other NGOs as well as to create linkages with other stakeholders. Especially for partners coming from outside Harare the possibility to meet other local and international NGOs. This year 12 partners were able to participate.

Special Agenda
This year the stage was set for a two-folded agenda due to the present state of affairs, that is the need to act upon the proposed NGO-bill. NANGO therefore decided to run a symposium alongside the traditional exhibition part.

The symposium included various dialog sessions and talks on topical issues concerning the NGO environment such as: 1) life after the NGO-bill, 2) the way forward for NGO’s, 3) poverty orientation, 4) corporate governance, 5) follow up on HIV/Aids conference.

The main objective of the symposium was to provide information to the different stakeholders and to throw light on the vital role of NGO’s in development.

Another special event was the announced attendance of Minister Mangwana (Minister of Public Services and Social Welfare) who was invited as Guest of Honour to officially open the Expo on Friday 8 October. NANGO’s aim was to engage the ministry as well as other politicians to come and learn about the nature and importance of NGO work in Zimbabwe.

In other words NANGO and it’s partners did not want to miss the chance to use the Expo as a convenient opportunity to demonstrate the impact of local and international organisations and advocate for a more NGO friendly environment.

Hopes end in frustration
The atmosphere at this years’ national NGO-Expo was marked by emptiness and disillusionment. Even though many stands displayed impressive and quality exhibitions, this could not cover up for the empty spaces left in between due missing stands. Some organisations never turned up and the number of less than 100 participating NGOs was not too impressive considering the total number of civic organisations operating in Zimbabwe today.

According to NANGO and others the limited attendance of NGOs relates to the current political environment as well as financial constraints. Due to the present economic problems that most NGOs are facing the production of exhibition materials as well as the travel expenses for those coming from outside Harare are costs the majority of local organisations cannot meet.

Equally disappointing was the limited attendance of visitors from the public and the private sector. NGOs actually spent more time on visiting each other’s stands and network amongst themselves compared to showing their exhibitions and work to visitors from outside. Part of the reason for the limited number of visitors might be the venue because the Show Grounds are situated relatively far from town. Secondly a Travel expo was taking place on the same days and this event did attract quite a lot people after working hours. Another important factor was the reluctant attitude shown by local media. The press and the television did not show much interest in announcing and covering the event. NANGO realised that in future there is a need to put more effort into advertisement and information in order to secure higher attention by the public.

The biggest disappointment though was the lack of interest demonstrated by the Ministry and other invited politicians who never came to view the expo. On Friday people waited in vain until they realised that no representative from the Ministry would facilitate the official opening. Linked to this disappointing sign of ignorance was the news of the intentions by government to tighten the proposed NGO-bill to a stricter version. After all the work NANGO and other NGOs had put into lobbying government and parliamentarians as well as informing the public in an effort to revise the proposed bill these news left NGOs disillusioned.

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