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Although government reacted with the usual denial when news filtered into the kingdom about an American company claiming to have been promised an exclusive permit and licence to farm and process cannabis, it is extremely impossible to dismiss this as a hoax given the way this country is governed.

In fact immediately I came across the article about the US company, Profile Solutions Inc claiming that it had received preliminary approval to establish a cannabis farm and processing plant here, I recalled the history of mobile telephony especially the secrecy surrounding the selection process of the first operator. To this day government has never taken the public into its confidence on how MTN won the race. Coincidentally – or is it – the US firm is also claiming that it has been extended an exclusive 10-year monopoly to grow and process medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp here. Of course that is too much of a coincidence not for one to smell a rat.

Although government has denied this, these claims have the DNA of the ruling elite and especially the Tinkhundla political system that essentially is in service for the former. What began as an insidious operation by the political elite to capture the economy while marginalising the ordinary people is today abroad for all to behold. The result of this skewed scheme of things is increasing poverty on one hand while those controlling the levers of power are becoming wealthier by the hour. As I see it, giving credence to the US firm’s claims are certain developments on the home front. Initially in the aftermath of these revelations Commerce, Industry and Trade Minister Manqoba Khumalo was quoted by the media hinting at the possible legalisation of dagga.

Then less than a week later it emerged that government had set up a ministerial team, which includes Minister Khumalo, to look into the pros and cons of legalising dagga. Other members of the committee are said to be the Health Minister Lizzie Nkosi, the attorney general and the Royal Eswatini Police Service. Minister Nkosi was quoted by the press as having confirmed this development although she did not divulge the identities of members of the committee. Ordinarily this should be a welcome positive development considering the retrogressive conservative position of the previous government on the matter. But what is worrying appears to be the somewhat clandestine processes that would deprive emaSwati of economic opportunities especially if claims by the American company are anything to go by.

As already alluded to, the proximity and relationship of unfolding events points to a well coordinated process from which, it can be concluded, emaSwati would be deliberately sidelined. There can only be one explanation to that and that is the total exclusion of emaSwati in this development except as a labour reserve. Given the foregoing it is almost impossible to applaud the new Cabinet for breaking the glass ceiling on the subject left by its predecessor since it is possibly not acting in the best interest of the nation but of the elite minority. Attracting investors in the pharmaceuticals and apparel industries in partnerships with locals ought to be government’s priority while preserving exclusively for emaSwati the farming aspect of the hemp and cannabis industry. This development ought to benefit the economy as well as emaSwati in their entirety not just a minority as it now appears to be the objective given the undercurrents of what is happening beyond the scrutiny of the nation.

Hopefully, government’s posture on the subject matter has put to rest the puerile moral debate on the legalising of dagga. The potential of the plant to boost the economic fortunes of this country and emaSwati is too great to be compromised by jaundiced judgments of the impact of its recreational abuse. Yet, already, products of the plant in the form of medicines, drugs and cosmetics are readily available locally. The fact that more and more nations, including neighbouring South Africa to some extent, have legalised the use of marijuana even for recreational purposes has opened opportunities for commercialising the farming of the herb.

To this end we should not be blinded by the apparent abuse of the herb for recreational purposes but ought to look at the bigger picture of its life-saving qualities on the pharmaceutical front and enhancing the wellbeing of people on the cosmetics front and not forgetting the apparel and textile industry. All these gains cannot be compromised by the moral question of the abuse of the herb for recreational purposes, which is quite minute to sustain the argument against its decriminalisation. There certainly is no other plant that is endowed with so many qualities such as cannabis.

As I see it, government can fast-track the process of decriminalising the herb using the very existing law criminalising it by putting in place measures for the issuance of licences for farming and dealing in the herb exclusively for medicinal, cosmetics and apparel and textile purposes excluding recreational purposes. This would fast-track the herb’s exploitation in order to lubricate the constricting economy while at the same time confronting the scourge of poverty. For the broader enabling legislative framework government can also look at what is obtaining in Scotland in its high-earning whiskey industry. There certainly is no need to reinvent the wheel and further delay the kingdom’s economic turnaround by procrastinating over this matter. The time to unleash the economic potential of this nation is now.                          

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