• Majestic Kingdom

    Despite its relatively small size, Swaziland remains a proud country of great beauty and traditions.

    Majestic Kingdom

    Over the last few years, Swaziland has been in a growth-recovery phase, albeit a subdued one. Being landlocked and overshadowed by its neighbours Mozambique and South Africa, it’s one of Africa’s smallest countries (only 17 364 km2), and therefore more prone to global financial ructions.

    It is also one of the most beautiful, offering landscapes of mountains and valleys, forests and plains, and big five wildlife reserves. Commonly referred to as the Switzerland of Africa, the nation remains a fascination for geologists, home to the oldest known mine in the world, the 43 000-year-old Lion Cave.

    It has also preserved its cultural rituals and celebrates with devotion its traditions, in certain cases with the participation of thousands of Swazi people, who are known to be some of the friendliest on the continent. Alas, they are also some of the most threatened, given that the country has the world’s highest HIV prevalence (31%) and TB incident rate.

    In Swaziland, the average life expectancy is a mere 49 years.

    Swaziland has done well, however, in stabilising its HIV problem, with infection rates gradually falling, largely due to increased access to testing and medicine. But it has left a gender imbalance in favour of males. Some 63% of the population lives below the poverty line and, according to World Bank figures, its unemployment rate stands at 28.5%.

    The agricultural sector provides income for the majority of residents, most of it subsistence farming or in the provision of raw materials for the agro sector.

    Classified as a low middle-income country, most GDP growth comes from its agro industries largely comprising sugar, wood pulp, citrus and fruit, cotton and meat manufacturing – in particular food and beverages.

    South Africa accounts for some 85% of its imports and 60% of exports, while the EU is Swaziland’s second-largest export market. Exports have, however, been seriously affected since the nation lost its eligibility for trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act last year.

    The nation has adopted a roadmap of recovery with parties such as the IMF and a tighter fiscal policy to guide and steer the economy towards a sustainable socio-economic revival, and also to prepare itself for predicted declining Southern African Customs Union revenue. The IMF argues that resilience to such challenges requires an ‘enhanced fiscal consolidation’ that will ‘keep international reserves above three months of imports without compromising growth potential or social needs’.

    The Swaziland government’s Programme of Action, which covers the years from 2013 to 2018, aims to fast-track progress towards Vision 2022, a blueprint intended to guide the country’s development from 1997 under the National Development Strategy (NDS).

    In essence, the NDS focuses on improved standards of living, poverty eradication, gender equality employment creation and environmental protection. Issued shortly after elections in 2013, the Programme of Action reflects the government’s vision of being a first-world country and evidence of that progress should manifest by 2022.

    Eight focal areas were identified for tracking: economic prosperity; agriculture and environmental sustainability; education; health; service delivery; infrastructure; governance; and corruption. The theme is ‘Development Unusual’, a keynote of the government indicating that ‘in pursuit of our development agenda is the need for a radical shift in mindsets and practices to align with those of developed countries.’

    With a population of 1.435 million, the nation is one of the world’s last remaining absolute monarchies. Current King Mswati III has ruled since 1986, when at age 18 he succeeded his father King Sobhuza II. Criticism has been directed at him for his autocratic rule.

    According to the Co-ordinating Assembly of Non-Governmental Organisations and Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa, Swaziland requires constitutionalism, political commitment to economic recovery, political stability, independent judiciary and institutionalisation, if it is to achieve democratic governance.

    Both organisations are jointly committed to aiding with Swaziland’s economic recovery, insisting that democracy must be seen as a short-term strategy and industrialisation a priority in the medium to long term.

    Mining potential exists as a catalyst for new investment given its deposits of coal, gold, barite, ball clays, kaolin, diamond and silica. Yet it appears only coal, quarried stone and iron ore are actually mined. However, two licences have been issued: one for iron ore, the other for diamonds.

    It is reported that the National Maize Corporation (NMC) has recorded a net profit of more than ZAR7.1 million compared to the ZAR80 000 loss it incurred in 2014.

    Further, in an effort to counteract a persistent drought, this year the NMC has ploughed 2 000 ha of maize, which it is hoped will prove significant in reducing the importation of the country’s staple foodstuff.

    In March this year, pan-African research network Afrobarometer ranked Swaziland first in the SADC region in terms of permanent electricity accessibility, translating to 82%, and fifth on the continent in terms of being able to provide supply to the majority of its citizens.

    Also in March the nation switched on its first solar power station at Buckswood House. The first phase offers 100 kW capacity with a second phase of 850 kW to follow.

    The third phase is a 21.6 MW plant with construction planned for early 2017. It’s been estimated that the nation has an annual theoretical hydropower potential of 3 800 GWh with installed capacity of 200 MW.

    Swaziland’s tourism sector still records good numbers – last year, more than 1.25 million tourist arrivals were recorded. The Swaziland Tourism Authority has reportedly increased its budget allocation by more than 20% for 2016/17 with a strategy to boost room and occupancy rates as well as length-of-stays.

    Close to US$80 000 has also been spent on the regional tourism project East3Route – a collaboration with Mozambique, Seychelles and South Africa. Its aim is to promote tourism, trade and investment relations by marketing the three countries as one destination.

    Swaziland has also become one of the first African nations to embrace the fitness trend of Nordic walking at one of its eight nature reserves, the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, which is considered the birthplace of the country’s conservation efforts.

    Another of its national treasures, Hlane Royal National Park (in the Lubombo mountains), has been credited for zero-poaching of rhinos. In fact, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has ranked Swaziland as the most successful country for rhino conservation in Africa. The Swaziland Game Amendment Act is one of the most powerful pieces of conservation legislation. It stipulates that any poaching – even an attempt – of white/black rhino, elephant or lion can incur a minimum five-year jail sentence, which can be increased to 15 years, without the option of a fine. The value of the animal poached must be paid back in full to the owner.

    Such preventative legislation also dictates that rangers can search any person or property without a search warrant, and a reward of ZAR100 000 is offered to anyone providing information that leads to the conviction of a poacher.

    These are perhaps small victories but they do keep Swaziland’s flag flying proudly.

    By Kerry Dimmer
    Image: Gallo/GettyImages