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Harare Carnival a drain on the fiscus

Organisers of the Harare International Carnival (HIC), Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), once more came to the defence of the event when the question relating to the event’s purpose in relation to investments channelled towards its annual hosting arose last week.

By Kennedy Nyavaya

Although dates for the HIC street party have been moved for the second time to October 20, ZTA said the fifth edition would take place on the newly-set date without any further delays.

However, the costs of holding the HIC across the spectrum have come under public scrutiny as they seem to outweigh the ultimate benefits.

The event has been labelled a tool that fuels erosion of the local moral fibre and an unnecessary bill on the national fiscus. In response, ZTA has played the “gross national happiness” card in addition to presenting mouthwatering figures purported to be profits from the event.

“In 2015, we got $30 million, yet last year we got $22 million from the carnival, so it has some economic effects,” ZTA chief executive Karikoga Kaseke told journalists on Wednesday, adding that government only pumps in “less than $1 million”.

Interestingly, the mentioned money is not a direct benefit for ZTA or government, but the amount of money that supposedly exchanges hands during the carnival period between traders and mostly local attendants.

Since its inception in 2013, the diverse culture fiesta only failed to take off in 2016 owing to lack of government financial support and had it not been for a bail-out by Bigtime Strategic Group, the same was most likely last year.

“This is a government carnival, so it is government-funded, but they cannot fund it the way we want it to look like,” said Kaseke as he unveiled mobile operator NetOne as this year’s sponsors of the street party.

True to his sentiments, government appears too cash-strapped to be funding events in the name of stimulating happiness.

Ironically the expenses budget is expected to jump this year owing to a rise in foreign groups expected to attend as some like Cubans and Brazilians get either accommodation, travel expenses or both settled by ZTA.

This is hardly an issue, according to Kaseke, who said a temporary “escape from people’s daily hardships” was necessary and thus the importance of the event.

“We know Zimbabweans are going through hardships and we know government is trying to undo this, but we want Zimbabweans to escape for just a few days,” he said, drawing parallels between HIC and Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro Carnival, which is said to have injected over a billion dollars into the economy during this year’s edition.

“We want to promote happiness in this country, we want our people to be excited and this has been our aim from the very beginning, which was coined promoting gross national happiness.”

Arguably the world’s biggest party, the Rio Carnival attracts 1,5 million tourists from Brazil and abroad, according to reports.

On the contrary, the local mega-party makes little impact on the economy apart from the meagre spending by participating foreign tourists.

Perhaps hosting the pre-All Africa Music Awards (Afrima) concert or Ghana’s King of Ashanti this year will attract paying foreigners enough to fit Kaseke’s description of this year’s edition as the “Mother of all Carnivals”.

“We met the organisers of All Africa Music Awards (Afrima) where they want Zimbabwe to host the pre-Afrima Concert in Zimbabwe during the Harare International Carnival dubbed Turn Up Africa Concert,” Tourism minister Prisca Mupfumira said while addressing the same gathering.

“It is our sincere hope that the Afrima Concert will really turn up Africa and that people from the region will turn up for the concert in huge numbers in support of this national event.”

If not, then maybe folding the event is an option organisers would want to explore in future.

Meanwhile, last year HIC was named the best festival in Africa by the Europe Business Assembly (EBA), which conferred the Socrates Award.

This year ZTA is targeting more people and an increase of up to $50 million in the money to be made by business although the prospects are dim owing to a decrease in most citizens’ buying power and subsequent rise in prices of basic commodities.

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