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Tuesday, 21 April 2009

SWAZILAND’S JOBS FANTASY

Does Swaziland suffer from a collective self-delusion? Or is it only King Mswati III who lives in a world of his own?


I ask following the announcement from the king that a multi-billion emalangeni Swazi City, financed by international money and comprising a 25 000 sq m shopping, entertainment and ‘wellness’ centre ‘to rival the world’; a Science and Technology Park; a hi-technology industrial Site and an expansion of Matsapha Industrial Site are to be built over the next three years, creating 15,000 new jobs.


According to the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, the king told crowds during his birthday celebrations at the weekend, “I have been assured by the experts who are working on the projects that they will deliver them within the next three years.


‘I have told them that I have taken their word for it and that the nation expects that the three years will be adhered to.’


I especially like the bit about ‘I have taken their word for it’. What possible evidence is there that any international company would want to set up in Swaziland, where seven in ten people are so poor they earn less than one dollar a day and have no money to buy anything at the new shops or leisure centres. In Swaziland, people are generally under educated (think about the present row over free primary schooling) so they are unlikely to be able to work at any ‘hi tech’ plant.


The Swazi City is a delusion and we should say so now.


The sad truth is that foreign investors by and large don’t want to be in Swaziland. Only last week the Swaziland Investment Promotion Authority (SIPA), an organisation tasked with bringing investment into the kingdom, admitted in its performance report for 2006 to 2008 that it had only managed to attract five foreign investments into the country in three years, with a total of 720 jobs.


The businesses that were set up were not exactly ‘hi tech’. One was involved in producing starch from cassava and another makes plastic bags. Two are involved in manufacturing mining drills and hand held tools and the fifth is yet another Taiwanese textile company.


If that’s the best that Swaziland has been able to achieve in the past three years we shouldn’t expect a sudden flood of top flight international companies at the border any time soon.


This isn’t the first time we’ve had announcements about foreign investors bringing lots of jobs to Swaziland: who remembers all the stories about call centres clamouring to get into Swaziland bringing thousands of jobs with them? Nothing happened and nothing is going to happen.


Just about every time King Mswati goes off on a foreign trip there are reports in the media that he has secured this or that agreement and jobs are on the way. It is a sad fantasy.


This is what the king says Swazi City is going to contain: a shopping mall with more than 250 shops, ‘which offer a variety of fashions from around the world’; four floors of luxurious shopping experience; Royal Villas which will offer up to 6-Star accommodation facilities suitable for all type of guests; a 28-Floor Hotel which will have 350 guest suites, world-class restaurants, three swimming areas and in-door sporting facilities, a health spa and a casino.


Now tell me, can you believe it?


Still in the land of fantasy, the new Sikhuphe International airport will receive its first plane in 2010. This is according to Millennium Project Unit (MPU) manager Lloyd Dlamini, who told a team of ambassadors from the Gulf and Arab States who are in the kingdom to explore avenues of cooperation and development between their countries and Swaziland.


Again, according to the king’s newspaper, Dlamini wants them to help get international airlines to use Sikhuphe International Airport and also to fund some of the project.


For those who had forgotten, Sikhuphe is being built in one of Swaziland’s many wilderness areas in the Lubombo region. Building started at the behest of King Mswati and Sikhuphe was billed as an airport that would be a hub for travellers coming into the continent of Africa. The idea was they’d fly into Sikhuphe and then change planes and fly on to their intended destinations.


I have never seen any analysis that supports this objective. In 2003, the Swazi Government ignored advice from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) about participation in unviable projects, and went ahead anyway with building the airport.


Why would anyone want to fly to this new airport when hardly anyone uses Swaziland’s existing airport at Matspaha? Business is so bad at Matsapha that last year the Swazi Express airline went out of business because it couldn’t attract passengers.


But at least Matspha is close to Swaziland’s main urban centres and is relatively easy to get to; Sikhuphe by contrast doesn’t even have an access road.


And let’s not forget that major international airports at Johannesburg and Cape Town are both a short flying time away.


According to the Observer, Minister of Economic Planning and Development Prince Hlangusemphi, said ‘The team of ambassadors have airlines in their countries and these are the countries we are targeting because they have big airlines which also operate in Africa.’


That may be, but if they wanted to fly to Swaziland they could use the existing airport. The truth is they don’t want to and, well, why would they?

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