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Guest Choice Questioned as Togolese President Opens ZITF

Presidents Mugabe and Gnassingbe.
Presidents Mugabe and Gnassingbe.

Togolese president Faure Gnassingbe says African countries should play an active role in boosting inter-regional trade.

Officially opening the 57th edition of the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair on Friday in Bulawayo attended by President Robert Mugabe, several ministers, members of the diplomatic community and thousands of Zimbabweans, Mr. Gnassingbe said African nations should break all the trade barriers in order to conducive conditions for running businesses.

Some Zimbabweans have described the trade fair as a low key event, noting that it no longer saves any purpose. But trade fair officials maintain that the annual event is still relevant in today’s modern business shows as they have diversified over the years to cater for the needs of exhibitors.

Gnassingbe has come under heavy criticism from some Zimbabweans for his style of leadership and refusal to embrace term limits.

Togo is one of the tiniest of countries in Africa, a sliver of land squeezed between Ghana and Benin. Gnassingbe, who is on his third term came into power in 2005 after the death of his father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, Africa's longest-serving ruler, who succumbed to a heart attack in 2005.

Eyadema had seized the presidency of Togo in a coup in 1967. It was perhaps fear for their careers that prompted the top military brass to ignore the constitution, which called for the speaker of parliament to be made interim president pending elections in 60 days, and elevated Mr. Eyadéma's son instead.

The speaker, who was abroad when Mr. Eyadéma died, stayed there. Togo's parliament quickly amended the constitution to catapult his son into power.

But international pressure forced Lome to hold elections. Nearly 800 people were allegedly killed by the security forces after protesting what they alleged to be electoral fraud.

Various nations condemned the elections and the way the situation was handled by the Economic Community of West African states and the African Union.

Some political analysts see parallels in what is happening in Lome and Harare.

But permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Joey Bimha told VOA Studio 7 that Gnassingbe came at the invitation of President Mugabe as the two countries seek to build closer ties.

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Studio 7 also reached international relations expert, Clifford Mashiri, a former diplomat at the Zimbabwe Embassy in Ethiopia, who said Gnassingbe and President Mugabe have so much in common.

Interview With Clifford Mashiri on Togolese President
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Meanwhile, some exhibitors have expressed confidence that they will strike lucrative deals at this year’s trade fair.

Chairmaine Hassen, director of Botswana company Solarmatics, said her firm is optimistic that they will reap huge rewards at the annual event.

Tanganda Tea Company operations manager, Farai Garayi, noted that his company has new products, which were well-received in Zimbabwe.

Some countries exhibiting at this year’s trade fair include Russia, Botswana, Ethiopia, Germany and several others. There are also hundreds of local exhibitors.

Our Bulawayo correspondent Nompumelelo Moyo contributed to this report.