By Mangaliso Mohammed
Is it made in Swaziland? This needs to be the first question that pops up in mind when each one of us is about to spend our hard earned money on anything sold in the streets and formal shops all over Swaziland.
Why? There simply aren’t enough jobs going around anymore, and the time has come to act and give support for increased production within our borders to induce aggregate demand for goods and services Made in Swaziland.
Swaziland’s Integrated Labour Survey (2014) paints a bleak picture of the state of unemployment in Swaziland: 28.1% of the labour force is unemployed with youth unemployment as high as 51.6%. It means one in three people who are capable of working are unemployed, and among this population, one in every two young people are out of work or have never worked. Half of the youth labour force is excluded from the productive economy while the youth bulge continues to grow faster than employment opportunities are created.
Who is to blame for this situation? Put differently, who should provide all the jobs we require to put people into employment? Before we answer this question, let us explore what happens when we buy goods and services in the economy.
When we spend money on anything we are essentially voting for the creation and growth of jobs in (1) our economy, and (2) the country where those goods and services we buy were made. But as we all know, Swaziland imports a lot of goods and services, and in most cases we import basic stuff that we can easily produce ourselves.
To create a Swaziland where everyone has the opportunity to work, we should go out of our way to spend and invest our hard earned money on goods and services that support local people and local communities by prioritising the purchase of goods and services made in Swaziland.
As individuals, communities, and organisations, we are part and parcel of the engine that will drive the total demand for Swazi goods and services. When it comes to daily basic needs like food, water, clothing, hygiene, etc., is it too much to ask to have a group of Swazi companies – for instance, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) – producing these products right here in Swaziland?
Actually, supporting ‘Made in Swaziland’ goods is a no brainer! Every day in the country someone needs food, someone needs soap, toothpaste, a pair of shoes, and some clothes, among a plethora of other essentials. Can’t we prioritise these basic goods because already there is an untapped everyday market right here in Swaziland? Better yet, every household needs a kettle to boil water, every household needs a fridge, a television set, and a bed.
We need not be a sleeping beauty and marvel at countries producing world-class products. Why is it ok with our conscience that we do not make these products and that it is ok to import everything from South Africa and the rest of the world? Are we merely building roads and other infrastructure in Swaziland to transport and infest our country with goods made in China and India while stifling the potential of our own businesses and suffocating Swazi talent to make and manufacture the best of the products we use on a daily basis?
Let us deliberately put ourselves first, our country first, so that in the next two to five – five to ten years – we can have a toothpick, toothpaste, a kettle, a fridge, a TV, a computer, a car made in Swaziland!
Our mantra/policy going forward should be “if we need it and use it every day, let us produce it ourselves here in Swaziland!”
All of this is not to say that in Swaziland there is no manufacturing of goods taking place. In fact, the country has a significant manufacturing sector which contributes about a third (35%) to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Manufacturing in Swaziland is predominately an agro based sector consisting of four export-oriented industries: sugar and drink processing, wood pulp production, fruit canning, and textile production. The dependence on such a limited number of products for export markets is perhaps the reason why the economy is failing to grow and create production and employment opportunities.
We simply need a more diversified and vibrant manufacturing sector that will produce everyday goods to be consumed by households here in Swaziland and beyond. We need a manufacturing sector that is connected to the daily lives of the people in Swaziland so that it transforms from just being about making money but also to be about serving the consumption needs of every individual and household in the country.
It is well and good to have sugar industries and big multinational corporations in Big-bend, Simunye, and Matsapha but they can only hire so many people, the money they generate – no matter how big it is – only concentrates within few individuals, and most of the true economic value of the multinational corporations accrues to their countries of origin, not Swaziland.
The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) views manufacturing development in Africa as an opportunity to lessen dependence on commodities from elsewhere and a key sector to all industries in terms of production, employment, export earnings and government revenue.
If we dare ourselves to seek out and support Swazi made products, we can force diversification within the manufacturing sector and position our SMEs to engage in the production of goods and services to be used by Swazis every day. We would also be facilitating job creation, spill-over effects into services and other industries, such as financial services, infrastructure development, transport and logistics, information systems, healthcare, education and training, and real estate. We all have the power in our pockets to make ‘Made in Swaziland’ a reality.
Vote with your every Lilangeni for Swazi products!
About the author: Mangaliso Mohammed is a Research Economist at the Swaziland Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre (SEPARC). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He writes in his personal capacity.