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AGOA RETURN IS NOT SD’S ECONOMIC NIRVANA

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PRIME Minister Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini was reportedly said to be feeling good about the Kingdom of Eswatini’s readmission to the United States trade regime enabled by the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) yet one does not recall him apologising to the nation when government took bread from the mouths of thousands of textile workers and their dependants about three years ago.

As quoted by the press, the PM was responding to the announcement on the eve of Christmas that US President Donald Trump had restored the kingdom’s eligibility to AGOA. The kingdom lost its AGOA eligibility at the beginning of 2015 owing largely to government’s traditional lack of respect for human rights and not because either the US or Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, hated the Swazi Government and its leadership.


Surprisingly, the Swazi leadership sought to retaliate by apparently boycotting the US Government that year, 2015. During the Fourth of July Independence Celebrations at the ambassador’s residence in Mbabane not a single ranking government official was in sight but the show went on irrespective. Paradoxically, it has now been reported that since then government has been splashing money on public relations consultants and lobbyists in a bid to worm its way into the warm embrace of the US Government. Yet another typical case of government wasteful expenditure for which, alongside poverty, the PM can claim credit. 


And as I see it, it is not that President Trump has a love affair with this country. It could well be that most of the issues culminating with the kingdom’s ejection from AGOA, as articulated by the US Embassy, have since been addressed primarily by amending requisite legislation. Be that as it may, this has not stopped the mind wondering if Trump’s decision is part of a well orchestrated grand project to undo anything done by Obama simply out of hatred for his predecessor. After all Trump’s racist tendencies in general and towards Obama specifically, including questioning his nationality, are well documented.  


Also, the timing of the announcement of the kingdom’s readmission to AGOA was not lost coming as it came on the eve of a vote by the United Nations on Israel’s decision to make Jerusalem its new capital. The US, which had already publicly endorsed Israel’s decision by announcing that it would be relocating its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, had warned of its preparedness to use economic sabotage to get UN member countries to vote in Israel’s favour. 

All but nine UN member countries voted against Israel while the others abstained. Consequently we have since been informed that the kingdom was among the nine that abstained although this would be difficult to verify independently. It might just as well have been a case of Trump using the economic carrot (AGOA) to buy votes in furtherance of the superpower’s foreign policy exploits in the Middle East.
And before setting off into the political sunset with an ill-placed smirk – erroneously thinking he is the best thing to have ever happened to the Swazi nation – the PM should consider that AGOA, which brought a number of Asian-owned textile industries to these shores, was not an economic nirvana it was often flouted to be. The only time when government could have done something meaningful and positive for the people when the US gifted Africa with AGOA, it blundered terribly by promising slave labour to textile investors as a carrot to bring them here.  And slave labour the desperate workers migrating from rural areas provided and are still providing out of desperation for jobs. Textile workers are paid such low wages that they cannot even sustain themselves let alone their dependants back home in the rural areas yet often work under harsh and inhuman conditions. The by-product of this has been the burgeoning prostitution trade in and around Matsapha Industrial Site where a majority of the textile firms are based. This poses all sorts of social challenges from the spread of HIV/AIDS to drug abuse, not to speak of unplanned pregnancies. In fact the latter scourge manifested itself at some stage when a depository of foetuses was discovered in some marshes around the sprawling residential areas supplying the textile firms with cheap labour.
As I see it, the reopening of textile firms with the return of AGOA is not a panacea to the wide scale unemployment especially among the youth. Government has failed to lead from the front by creating an enabling environment and climate for investors, particularly foreign direct investors, to create the much needed jobs. While there is talk of increasing the number of tertiary institutions around the country, this has not been matched with policy directives and reforms that would spur economic activity that in turn would create jobs for graduands. It does not require rocket science, unless of course one falls within the phalanx of leeches comprising bootlickers, sycophants, etc feeding off the carcass of the Tinkhundla Political System, to figure out that fundamental political transformation is what this country urgently requires right now to unlock its potential. But even that will require to be driven by fearless men and women who are not embarrassed by talking truth to power. These are individuals of high moral pedigree who would not place their personal and retirement agendas before national imperatives and the people. The future of this country lies in a pluralistic body politic and not the corrupting Tinkhundla Political System.     

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