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close this bookThe Courier N 123 Sept - October 1990 - Dossier Higher Education - Country Reports: Barbados - (EC Courier, 1990, 104 p.)
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close this folderSwaziland: Greener pastures
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View the documentInterview with Prime Minister Obed DIamin on prospects for the 1990s
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View the documentSwaziland and the European Community partners in cooperation

Interview with Prime Minister Obed DIamin on prospects for the 1990s

Obed Mfanyana Dlamini was appointed by King Mswati III to be Swaziland’s sixth Prime Minister in July 1989. Born in 1937 in the Shiselweni district, he held posts in teaching and banking before his appointment, as well as various positions of leadership in the country’s trade union movement, culminating in his election as General Secretary of the Swaziland Federation of Trades Unions.

As Prime Minister, Mr Dlamini heads the modern, as opposed to traditional, arm of Swaziland’s dualistic governmental system, that comprising a cabinet and a bicameral parliament, very much along the lines of the Westminster model, though with important distinctions. One of these distinctions resides in the prerogative of the Head of State, the King, to appoint the Prime Minister (as indeed all other ministers, and a proportion of both Houses of Parliament). Another consists of the tinkhundla election process, to which Prime Minister Dlamini refers below, by which individuals are chosen at tinkhundla (traditional meeting places of the people) to form an Electoral College which votes in members of the House of Assembly. At the same time, the monarchy is advised by a council of elders, the Council of State or liqoqo.

It was on the question of Swaziland’s concept of government, which is unusual in Africa, that The Courier first addressed Mr Dlamini.

· Swaziland’s system of government is authentically African and has certainly provided for political stability. Has a different system ever been considered?

- Our present system of government, which we call the tinkhundla system, is relatively new. It was introduced in October 1978, just over 11 years ago, following the repeal in 1973 of the Independence Constitution which was tailored on the Westminster model.

So far, no major changes have been made to the tinkhundla system of government. However, there is already a growing public feeling that this system is now in need of some modifications here and there so as to make it more responsive to the political aspirations of the people of Swaziland.

We are currently looking into all the possibilities and we sincerely hope that it will soon be possible to effect the suggested modifications.

· As a small nation, the fortunes of your much larger neighbours are obviously of great significance. What have been the effects on Swaziland of South Africa’s recent degree of “glasnost “ and what, in your view, would be the effects on Swaziland of peace in Mozambique?

The recent political events in South Africa are extremely encouraging. It would seem that a new era of peace is dawning on the entire Southern African region.

As you are no doubt aware, political violence in South Africa in the past used to spill over onto Swaziland and many Swazi nationals were killed or injured in the process.

Naturally, Swaziland is very pleased to see peace initiatives in South Africa replacing violence. We pray and hope that the current peace initiatives will succeed.

We are also hopeful that the end of apartheid in South Africa will bring about the lifting of sanctions against that country, the return of investments to South Africa and the end of South Africa’s isolation by the international community.

This, I hope, will bring about an appreciation in the value of the South African rend to which our own currency, the lilageni, is linked.

This would, in turn, ease the current burden of expensive imports on Swaziland resulting from the present unfavourable exchange rate for hard currency.

Equally, Swaziland would happily welcome the advent of peace in Mozambique. As you are no doubt aware, Swaziland uses the Maputo port facilities for its major exports, e.g. sugar. The fighting in Mozambique has been very disruptive to Swaziland’s rail links with Maputo.

· The refugee situation, described three or four years ago as having reached “ crisis proportions “ is now very much worse. How are you coping?

- So far, Swaziland has been fortunate in receiving substantial amounts of financial assistance from the international community. For instance, the EEC has just given us an amount of ECU 747665 to finance the expansion of facilities at one of the refugee settlements in Swaziland in order to cater for the accommodation and schooling needs of the growing refugee population.

However, unless the present rate of new arrivals is considerably reduced, the crisis will certainly get out of control. Hence the urgency for finding an early peaceful solution to the war in Mozambique so that the refugees from that country could return home.

· Swaziland’s own population is also expanding rapidly, such that the present high unemployment levels will rise unless steps are taken. Are attempts being made to reduce population growth as well as to create jobs?

- The rapidly increasing population and the growing problem of unemployment are, at present, the two major difficulties facing the country

In an attempt to address these problems, government has launched an extensive family planning compaign aimed at encouraging Swazi nationals to both space and limit the number of births per family.

We have also continued to create an investment climate in order to encourage investors to come to invest in our country, and are trying to diversify our economy in order to encourage a greater degree of participation by Swazis in the development process of their country.

· What is Swaziland’s economic strategy for the 1990s?

- The main objective of our economic policy is to improve the welfare of our citizens through the creation of productive job opportunities.

Our record on this during the 1980s was very mixed. The early part of the decade was characterised by slow growth rates. The middle years required a major programme of rehabilitiation from the serious effects of cyclone Domoina which struck Swaziland in 1984. The past two years, however, have seen significant growth, with increases in real GDP per capita. In each year from 1986 we have had an increase in foreign exchange reserves, fuelled by rapid increases in exports, notably sugar, wood products and manufacturing. Manufacturing is particularly encouraging as it indicates that the economy is diversifying. Indeed, manufacturing now contributes as much as agriculture to GDP, although it should be remembered that much of our industrial activity is based on the processing of our agricultural produce.

However, we are aware that the increase in investment that enabled this growth is partly fortuitous. Many investors have tried to distance themselves from the Republic of South Africa while gaining access to the EEC market and the Preferential Trade Area for Eastern and Southern Africa.

These circumstances could change quite rapidly, especially if there is a peaceful transition to a non-racial democracy in South Africa. This is something we all hope for but it is outside our control and it must be recognised that such an event could place great strains on our economy.

Thus, the largest single impact on our economic future is something that we are unable to plan for and incorporate in our economic strategies for the 1990s. What we can do, however, is to ensure that Swaziland remains as attractive an investment area as possible. This involves, of course, offering some incentives, such as tax holidays and soon.

· Despite the considerable advantages it offers to investors, the manufacturing sector seems not to have expanded greatly. Is this in fact the case, and if so why? Has Swaziland been sufficiently actively “sold” as a prime location?

Firstly, the statement that the manufacturing sector “ seems not to have expanded greatly”, is not quite correct. In Swaziland, the manufacturing sector presently accounts for 25 % of GDP. This proves that it has experienced a substantial growth over the past few years. Indeed, in his 1990 budget speech, the Minister for Finance stated that, since the 1985 fiscal year, there has been an upswing in investment in manufacturing enterprises and growth of this sector is estimated to be about 10 % per annum over the last five years.

Agro-industries, including wood-processing, account for about 75 % of our industrial production. Commercial agro-processing involves sugar, wood-pulp, citrus, pineapples, cotton, maize and meat. And in addition to food processing, the manufacturing sector includes bricks, textiles and beverages, and much else.

As far as “selling” Swaziland is concerned, substantial efforts have been made to promote the country regionally and internationally. Indeed, a number of investment promotion seminar and/or conferences have been conducted in South Africa, Botswana, Canada and the U.S.A. The last seminar conducted has been recently held in Washington D.C. and was sponsored by USAID. It was directed by a highly-powered delegation which included the Ministers of Finance and Commerce and Industry as well as the Governor of the Central Bank and a number of prominent businessmen from Swaziland. The Head of State, His Majesty King Mswati III, has graciously accepted to become the country’s ambassador at the highest level for promoting Swaziland to investors worldwide.

Government has also established the Swaziland Industrial Development Company as the major vehicle for promoting new investment. Specifically, SIDC acts as the country’s first point of contact for prospective investors by offering them both financial and advisory services.

In order to encourage potential investors to come here, SIDC has decided in principle to establish investment bureaus in the European Economic Community and North America. Furthermore, I would add that on the occasion of an EEC-funded seminar in Lisbon in May 1990, Swaziland representatives made special promotion efforts to attract Portuguese investors to the country.

· Tourism has suffered in the past from competition from South Africa’s homelands. What can Swaziland offer the tourist that the homelands can’t?

- There was indeed a small decline in the volume of tourist flows from South Africa between 1975 and 1980 following the establishment of the Sun City resort in Bophuthatswana. However, as Swaziland is not wholly dependent upon South African tourists, the decline was small and was made up mainly of gamblers who were attracted to the new gambling facilities nearby in Bophuthatswana.

Following this decline, we stepped up our marketing campaigns in Western Europe and the decline was soon reversed.

Swaziland has a unique tourism package to offer. It has a monarchical institution which has long disappeared in most countries in Africa, and the rich and colourful cultural heritage of the Swazi people, their friendliness and hospitality are unrivalled tourist attractions.

The incwala and the reed dance, for example, which are held annually, are some of the old traditional values of this nation which are very popular with tourists. The incwala is a festive occasion for “ tasting crops of the new season” and is essentially a kingship ceremony which is held in either December or January each year. The umhlanga (“ reed dance “) is usually held at the end of August or early September of each year. This is a special ceremony for Swazi maidens who have attained marriageable age. The maidens gather at the Queen Mother’s residence, then set out to cut the reeds which end up being used as windbreaks for the Queen Mother’s residences. The process may take up to a week, culminating in two main days of singing and dancing for the public.

There are other minor traditional dances which also form an integral part of Swazi life. These include the sibhaca dance, with its stirring rhythms, dramatic movements and exciting colour which has gained it much popularity among our visitors and the traditional wedding which is almost as colourful as the incwala ceremony. These ceremonies have no fixed period.

Apart from being rich in traditions, the country has a super tourism structure that can suit any tourist from any part of the globe - reasonable hotel accommodation, adequate roads, sports facilities including the popular golf and the car rallies, wildlife, handicrafts and casinos - all within easy reach in this tiny kingdom.

And, above all, the stability of our political system, the favourable climate and the scenic landscape all combine to offer the visitor a glimpse of the imagined “ Garden of Eden”.

So as to facilitate the flow of tourists into the country, government now grants free entry visas to all European Community nationals. Other nationals who require visas to enter the kingdom can obtain them at all ports of entry to Swaziland.

· SADCC is celebrating 10 years of existence this year. How do you rate its achievements?

- I rate SADCC’S achievements in the past ten years very highly. We have, in the past decade, achieved a great deal in the area of transport, for example.

The successful rehabilitation of the Beira railway line and the port facilities at Beira are some of the most important achievements of our organisation.

Another important achievement has been made in food security. We now have well documented food requiremeets, consumption patterns and well researched food production strategies.

· What do you see, finally, as the principal benefit to Swaziland of being a signatory to the Lomonvention?

- Swaziland derives considerable benefits from the Lomonvention. I can mention for instance, the benefit of selling a predetermined quantity of its sugar at favourable and prearranged prices to EEC countries.

Interview by M.v.d.V.