Swaziland doesn’t appear in the western news that often, but when it does it’s rarely for the ‘right’ reasons. And, once again, that’s been the case in recent days. In similar fashion to a celebrity whose life is plagued by narcotics and alcohol abuse, the Swazi government continues to frame itself as a victim of circumstance rather than being responsible for its own demise. On New Year’s Day the country’s textile industry suffered a serious blow when the USA, a major recipient of textile exports from Swaziland, decided to withdraw its trade agreement with the nation (see here).
The reasons behind such aggressive action are to do with the non-compliance of the government in establishing legal sanctions protecting its labourers. Although Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini states that the country will not suffer as a result, the predicted outcome is a loss of over 17,000 jobs, a devastating blow to a population of approximately 1million, which is already suffering from a high unemployment rate. Ironically, the King has also recently authorised a project worth US$90million, to build an oil storage facility in the country (see here). He proudly stated that it would “have a 90 million litre fuel capacity to last Swaziland 90 days. It [will also] store 42 million litres of diesel and 38 million litres of petrol and result in the creation of at least 300 jobs”. The tender for this project was not open, and neither was it approved by parliament. The contract has been given to the South African company, Kantey & Templer Consulting Engineers, which was also contracted to build a new airport in the country. Naturally, rumours of malpractice and patronage have begun to circulate amongst the political elite. What interests the monarch has with Kantey & Templer have yet to be uncovered. Such extravagance is viewed as unnecessary, particularly at a time when the nation will most likely require such funds to deal with the inevitable unemployment crises.
Quite what is going on here is not clear. But it is something that certainly merits further attention as Swaziland struggles to keep its economic head above water.