ORGANISERS of the Harare International Carnival (HIC) unveiled the event’s programme last week, putting to rest reports that the festival was in doubt.
Repeated changes of the dates had led many people to conclude that the organisers were struggling to bring the event together due to financial constraints.
But the release of the six-week programme pleasantly surprised the few who had remained confident that the carnival would take place over a few days.
Critics however argue that the six-week programme, which was officially launched last weekend and begins this week, is an indication that the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) hijacked other programmes and presented them as their own under the carnival banner.
Events like Tuku and Friends Concert and the Harare Jazz Music Festival are permanent fixtures on the country’s major arts and events calendar yet they are on the carnival programme.
The ZTA chief executive, Karikoga Kaseke has come out guns blazing, rubbishing the “prophets of doom”. He said “all the events that have been listed on
the carnival events programme were long negotiated and agreed on”. He added that Government had honoured its commitment by unveiling funds, thus automatically setting the ball in motion.
Below are the ZTA chief executive’s responses to the critics. Read on. . .
Q: What is the rationale behind running this carnival for six weeks when initially you were complaining about funding?
A: We had initially planned to hold the carnival from September 16 to 19. We had liaised with artistes like Oliver Mtukudzi who wanted to be part of the street party and carnival shows. He agreed to have a Jazz Music Festival (invitational) on September 19 and also the annual Tuku and Friends. So we realised that Tuku had already invited his friends from all over Africa and they have already confirmed participation, that’s why we had to let the shows go on as scheduled. We changed the dates because tonight (last Wednesday) I’m going to Colombia for the UNWTO General Assembly.
When we set this date last year, we had not received confirmation of the UNWTO date from the officials and when it finally came, it coincided with our carnival dates, thus we had to change. But we realised we could not change dates of some of the agreed programmes. It is too late for Tuku to communicate the changes and agree on new dates with his friends dotted across Africa. This is the reason why the carnival has had to start early. We are simply working with the initial programme; besides, there is no problem in starting early. The Nigerian Carnival is one month long so this is perfectly normal.
Q: So are these early events a build-up to the carnival?
A: No. The events are not a build-up but are part of the carnival. Like I said, there is nothing wrong with these events. After all, September is a tourism month culminating in the World Tourism Day celebrations on September 27. Basically, we are inviting people to come in support of Tuku and Friends, and the overall carnival.
Q: The issue of funding has been your major challenge. Have you found ways around it?
A: Funding will always be a problem. As you can see our Government is very much constrained in terms of financial resources and we understand that very much. However, they have done the best they can. They promised to give us US$300 000 and already they have dispatched US$100 000. We are very hopeful that the remaining US$200 000 will come for the carnival.
Q: Last year, some accredited carnival enthusiasts were denied entry into certain shows by promoters handling those shows. Have you addressed that?
A: Our carnival is starting and some people still don’t know why we are carrying out the event in the first place. They are not very clear on the objective of the jamboree. True, the carnival should have an economic impact on the country and to those promoters running events under the carnival banner, but we are saying we must exercise caution because we are still building this brand called carnival.
It will take some time, a minimum of seven years, for that brand to be built and then benefits that are expected should start trickling in. Once the brand is built we expect even more economic benefits. I don’t want to castigate those who are trying to take advantage of the carnival, people should make money out of the show but in some instances it was clear that some of the charges they were pegging for a carnival, which is still in its infancy, were not proper. Indeed they went overboard but we have talked to them and we hope this year will be better.
Q: You indicated after the second edition of the HIC that you will be reducing the number of people hosted by the ZTA in each edition of the carnival. How far have you gone with the plan?
A: This year it’s quite different because of the change of dates but note that there is a difference in the meaning of the word ‘hosting’ in your sense and in our sense. When a country comes here for a carnival, we are the host. So we are saying we are going to reduce the number of people we accommodate and yes, this year, the number for the people we are going to pay accommodation for has drastically decreased.
We are only going to pay for accommodation for delegates from countries that are coming in for the first time. Those coming in for the second time will have to pay for their own accommodation and they have agreed. Thus reducing the numbers does not mean reducing the number of people coming for the carnival. For example, Egypt came last year and so did Botswana and Namibia – they are coming again this year and these are some of the countries paying for their own accommodation.
Q: Are you satisfied with the growth direction of HIC considering the challenges you are facing every year?
A: This is the third edition of our carnival and we feel it is going according to plan. We set a vision and we think we are on course. In fact, we think we are moving ahead of our plan because we thought by now we would be having around two hundred thousand on the streets but we already estimate the number that came last year to be above a million, so this is encouraging to us as organisers. The whole idea of a carnival is to create a sea of people in euphoria. If people don’t come then we are not on course.
Q: Your message to Zimbabweans. . .
A: I’m saying the carnival is back and it’s yours. This is not our event as the ZTA, it’s an event for the people. An event where people can have time off the daily hassles. Come to the streets and be happy with the whole nation. People are going to come from all over the country – Gweru, Mutare, Bulawayo, you name it, and they will be rejoicing all over the streets just like our minister (Tourism and Hospitality Minister Walter Mzembi) always say when he talks about gross national happiness, which is a measure of how a nation is doing. We expect people to come in their numbers, especially on the day of the Street Party – October 10 – when we will be parading cultural activities from different countries.