EXPLAINED: The economic impact of democracy protests in Eswatini

(This is a transcript of the podcast posted on Monday, July 5th 2021. You can listen to the podcast by clicking on this link https://www.buzzsprout.com/1655965/8814901)

Welcome to The Weekly Beat by Mansa with your hosts, Arnold Segawa, Maggie Mutesi, and Dumi Jere. Giving you all the info on Africa’s big finance and economic stories, The Weekly Beat by Mansa.

DUMI JERE:

Greetings, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to this week’s episode of The Weekly Beat. My name is Dumi Jere. And this week, we’re going to try to do things a little bit differently. I’m going to make a special call out at the beginning instead of the end. So please follow our podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and/or Amazon Music so that you’re notified whenever a new episode goes live. With me is my co-host, my beautiful sister, Maggie. How are you Maggie?

MAGGIE MUTESI:

I’m doing fine. Thank you so much Dumi. How is Johannesburg?

DUMI JERE:

Nah, it is all right. It’s all right. There’s some progress with regards to the vaccines so we’re happy about that. Your side, which part of the world are you in anyway?

MAGGIE MUTESI:

I’m in Nairobi. I’m in Nairobi. We’re keeping away from COVID-19 so we can’t move anyhow but it’s a bit interesting. I don’t even know what to say when we talk about how are you. I feel like I want to say, I don’t know how the next six months is going to be because we’re already in the middle of the year and we’re still talking about vaccines and COVID.

I bring this up every single episode because Dumi it is the basis of business. It is the basis of livelihoods. We’d go back and then we take two steps ahead with a vaccine and then take like 10 steps back. I just read a story yesterday of this group of 10 guys in the U.K. who went to watch a soccer match for England. And then at the end of the match, out of 11 of them, nine of them had COVID-19. They had symptoms and they were all vaccinated posing a question, are we even safe with the vaccines?

DUMI JERE:

Okay. Wow. For now I think we can only dream big until we are able to vaccinate a good number of our population in Africa. The Delta variant that ravaged India a couple of months ago is now in SADC region and a number of the countries are battling that Delta variant, including South Africa. So the numbers in South Africa, yeah, they’re very scary, but closer to South Africa, a country really that sometimes people feel that it should be the province of South Africa because it is almost in South Africa, Eswatini.

Lots has been going on in the Kingdom of Eswatini, Africa’s, last absolute monarch. These protests turned violent this week in the pro-democracy protest. So people want democracy and they don’t want to continue with the monarch rule. And so what they decided some buildings that were connected to King Mswati III were torched by the protesters and police have reportedly been assaulting and arresting political opponents.

The numbers are a bit shaky because some say there at least eight people that have been killed, some say there is 50, some say there is a hundred, what makes it worse is the government has shut down the internet. Or if the internet is there, the social media sites are not available. So Twitter, Facebook, and so forth, which makes it difficult access to reliable news from within the country.

But we’ve got some people that we know in the country and we’ve got some information, and things are really bad. So it’s just a crazy time. You’re trying to deal with COVID pandemic. At the same time you have people going out into the streets to protest. At the same time you unleash the army and the police to sort of maintain peace but in the process, human rights violations and stifling of freedom of speech. I mean, and so many other things.

MAGGIE MUTESI:

You know Dumi as you were talking about what’s happening in Eswatini, much as we all know what’s going on, the people taking on the streets to protest all of these things, and then to my mind, it kept on thinking if we took a step back and counted how many protests we’ve had in the past one year, can we actually quantify that to how much money we could have lost?

Talk about this year from Eswatini, Mozambique, the amount of money we saw the government lose in terms of investment from Total and all the investors that had to pull out, then we go back to last year, maybe last year it was a bit quieter, but still there are all these demonstrations that happen here and there, and so forth.

And I feel like we haven’t got to that point where we say, this has actually cost the continent this amount of money, also leaving us wondering where is the aim, how do we get to this part? What is even the main issues? And Eswatini is the last monarchy that we have in Africa. Isn’t it?

DUMI JERE:

Yeah, yeah, it is. It is. So I think what sort of triggered this thing, I think the COVID pandemic    has essentially worsened the situation that we had. So for those that had jobs, some lost jobs, for those that still have jobs, some are now on reduced salaries and so forth. So you have about 80% of the population living below the poverty line, right? In the midst of that unfortunate situation, you have the king who supposedly or is actually living an extravagant lifestyle. All of his wives, or if not, majority of their wives drive or are driven in Rolls Royces in a country that’s got 80% of the population living in poverty.

So now people then been feeling like their problems are caused by the king and his government. So people now then demand that the king must step aside. And so the protesters now seem to mean more business and you are right when talking about when we look at the number of countries, particularly I think we can extend it to the whole continent, but in SADC you are right. There was the Mozambique that was going on, Zimbabwe, I think it was if not last year, it was the other year.

You’ve got some in South Africa as well in the mix, and there’s so much instability, which at the end of the day sometimes ends up threatening investors. At the end of the day we talk about investment on this show, right? People then think, “Okay. So is it safe for us to go into this country now? Because, well, there’s so much instability.” What do we say to such people?

MAGGIE MUTESI:

I saw somewhere online that the king of Eswatini bought an Airbus for 2.7 billion rand for his 50th birthday using state funds and an additional 500 million rand to refurbish it. And of course, to keep it in the newly constructed airport of about 2.2 billion rand, I don’t know how much that is in dollars, but I think there is a revolution sipping all over.

And for me, I have quite reservations when it comes to some of these revolutions. I think we’ve had these conversations, countries like Eswatini, let me even call it a kingdom. It’s one of those kingdom not so much you would hear a lot coming from that. I’m so glad we have you on the show today because you must be one of the few people I know that have been to Eswatini this year. So there’s so much to learn from you, but it gives an indication that there’s so much hunger, as much as there’s investment coming into the continent.

There’s also so much hunger and need for accountability when it comes to Africans. Even when you look at Eswatini, it’s the young people demonstrating. Yes, there’s going to be some bit of development. I mean, basic need. And COVID-19 has pushed us to the corner that you either provide for the masses or it’s just a time bomb. I mean, there is a very high rise. The unemployment is on the rise. I think this is a report from ILO on the African continent. A lot of people have been left without jobs. The governments have to have plans for their citizens.

So it might be costing a lot in terms of investment and getting people to come into these economies. How much does Eswatini bring in? I would love to understand more about this small economy.

DUMI JERE:

So I’m not sure of the actual GDP at this point. But when you look at from agricultural point of view, part of the sugar that is used not only in the country but in the SADC region and by extension the rest of the continent, a good number of it or a good portion of it comes from the Kingdom of Eswatini. So there’s a lot to offer. From a tourism perspective they also have a lot to offer. And the thing about it is at the end of the day what is happening now is almost threatening because they were on a drive to try and encourage companies to set base for exports. So there’s only so much that you can provide. I mean, the population is around 1.3 million give or take, right? So there’s only so much that you can provide for such a population.

So your best bet as a government is to encourage or attract people to come and set base in the country for exports. So that’s perhaps think of it in terms of maybe a small startup wants to set up an IT hub or the help desk. So you could actually be in South Africa, but then your IT help desk is stationed in Eswatini. In that way, you’re actually also creating employment and your businesses continue to function with also the planned introduction of certain SEZs, the economic zones where you can get extra tax benefits if you set up in the country, maybe from a manufacturing perspective or from a construction perspective.

Things like this they sort of destabilize those plans and they derail everything that you had planned to say, okay, maybe by the year 2023 as a country this is where we wanted to be. Already when you have things like this now, then everybody gets jittery, but I want to play devil’s advocate. I know this is what Arnold likes to do. So I’m going to take-

MAGGIE MUTESI:

Don’t you miss him?

DUMI JERE:

I do miss him. So I’m going to take his job for now. And I want to play the devil’s advocate and say, when you look at a country for example say DRC, right? We’re not supporting the things that, the human rights abuses that go on in DRC. However, when you look at DRC with all the commotion that’s there, with all the chaos that’s there, the companies still flock. They never complained. Investors never complained and say, “Well, we’re not going to DRC because there’s so much instability.” Why is it the case then when a country like Eswatini things like this happen and people start saying, “Oh, maybe not.”

Why is that?

MAGGIE MUTESI:

I mean, that’s a very good question, but isn’t money in the middle of all of this case. I don’t want to say because I’m not such a big mass investor, but I know where I’m coming from. Nevertheless Dumi, one of the things I know I’ve been talking about from is, and going back to the protest has been the corrupt government and the fact that the king literally owns everything, because I know this is a conversation that has happened previously before, even in Europe.

In Africa, we had a very different situation, but this is the last monarch we’re having that is ruling a country, a kingdom. Could that be also the problem, because I mean, in a monarchy it’s different like having a government. It’s different institutions, they have different policies, different ways, things are really done. One of the things before I’ve been complaining about, like I mentioned this, the king living a luxurious life, several wives, not to say that the several wives is also a luxury, but I don’t know, could it be there’s need to decentralize? Is that what it is called politically, to sound politically correct?

DUMI JERE:

Perhaps let’s look at it from a context of the demography of Africa. And you know that a huge percentage, if not 75% or 80% of Africa’s population is made up of the youth right now. The monarch system was something that it’s been here for years and years and years and years, right? I don’t think though that the youth are willing to subscribe to such a thing when there’s so many opportunities for the youth in this continent. And we keep mentioning that the youth are the drivers of this economy, I mean, of this continent. And they are the future of this continent yet they feel that by applying this monarch system, they are stuck in the past. So they want to move with the times being the youth that they are.

It’s like saying to a youth, “Yes, we understand that you are a youth, but we don’t want to give you internet. I don’t think you can play games. I don’t think you can have a smartphone. I don’t think you should have that. Continue living like you’re in 1960.” They’re just going to look at you like, “Are you crazy?”

So they want to move with the times. And frankly in my opinion, I think it’s also a time for the country to change and perhaps give more voice to the people, give more room to the people to decide the future that they want and not continuously decide for them.

MAGGIE MUTESI:

To open up the economy.

DUMI JERE:

Yes, yes, yes. Yes. Because that’s the only way, right? I think Eswatini it’s worse. SADC was in the country yesterday and they were only there for three hours and they left. They promised to come back to try and bring peace to the nation. So we’re just going to continue watching as the week unfolds. And hopefully there’s a meeting of the minds and people come to the table and come to a speedy resolution around this because it’s bad for business estimates that businesses are worth about 3 billion rand. And it’s going to do damage to such a small economy. So hopefully the situation changes and-

MAGGIE MUTESI:

It’s definitely worse for the region, worse for investments because this is also a tiny teeny country that a lot of people I’m assuming would love to discover, but when, if you’re having these and all of that, it leaves a gap on can I even go in, can I put my money in here? But it’s the first time I’ve seen something like this though happening and it’s Eswatini to be honest.

DUMI JERE:

Yeah, it’s been happening, but this time the people seem more determined and the situation has just been made worse by the pandemic. And as a country that relies so much on trade with South Africa and Mozambique, all of these protests are delaying trucks that are at the borders. So those trucks then get blocked from delivering goods to Eswatini which may see people starving or fuel queues because fuel is not coming in.

So it’s a situation where people are really frustrated, but at the end of the day, we need to try and be positive about these things. Yes, there’s this that’s happening, but investments should not stop. People should continue looking up to these things. I’m sure an amicable solution will be found, one that will be stable for the region. And we look forward to doing business, more business in Eswatini again. That’s where we’re going to leave it for today.

A reminder to everyone that the virus is still real. It’s still within us. And with these delayed vaccine rollouts, we can only expect you to be with us for longer. So continue placing a higher value on life. Continue listening to the authorities and do not develop a casual attitude. On that note, thank you for listening to this episode special.

Thank you to Maggie, the team behind the scenes, and of course the loyal listeners. Remember to visit our website mansamedia.africa for more news about the continent, as well as our social media pages, Mansa Media Africa on Facebook and @mansa_media on Twitter. I am Dumi Jeri, until the next time yes to peace and profits.

The Weekly Beat by Mansa with your hosts Arnold Segawa and Maggie Mutesi and Dumi Jere, giving you all the info on Africa’s big finance and economic stories, The Weekly Beat by Mansa.

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