The scene was set and the cast of panellists and delegates exceeded expectations as the inaugural Swaziland Economic Conference 2017 kick-started on a rich, insightful note yesterday as a high level team of panellists and researchers made opulent presentations on a range of thought-provoking topics.

Amid a lacklustre economic growth rate of 1%, different panellists deliberated on a wide range of issues all bordering on how Swaziland can achieve sustainable economic growth and recovery.

Acting Prime Minister Paul Dlamini, on behalf of Prime Minister Dr Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini, made it clear that Swaziland’s current 1% economic growth rate will not be of much help in attaining the country’s Vision 2022 as the country needs a growth rate of at least 5% to launch the recovery needed for this development agenda.

The acting Prime Minister described the conference as being a perfect avenue for policy-makers, development partners and captains of industry to share ideas and to learn from research while identifying the opportunities for a way forward to faster economic growth.

Dlamini also described the theme of the conference – which is ‘Turning the Key: Path to Economic Growth and Recovery’ – as being a device that will unlock the way forward to achieving the required rate of economic growth, while warning that the term ‘key’ in the theme is by no means a magic wand.

The acting Prime Minister did not deny the fact that economic recovery remains elusive for Swaziland despite the best brains producing blueprints on what the country should do to achieve growth. He was optimistic that the conference would produce much-needed ideas on what exactly Swaziland needs to do to shed off its persistent economic woes.

Dlamini also alluded to the importance of small, medium and micro-scale enterprises (SMMEs) sector, whether in agriculture or other areas of production, as being the real powerhouse of any economy. However, he lamented the absence of any active, ongoing or accurate measurement of SMME growth or recession in the country. He observed that lack of data was one of the main reasons why there are no such measurements.

“What we do know is that the major constraints to SMME growth lie in technical and managerial skills, availability of finance and access to markets. A further consideration is the strength of our entrepreneurial culture. In the face of unemployment, is the need to make a living matched by the desire and determination to do so?” wondered the Prime Minister.

He also expressed concern on whether youth schemes translate to entrepreneurial vibrancy in adult years. Concerning the tourism industry which has been identified as one of the key potential job creating sectors in the country, Dlamini also shared his worries on why tourists spend little more than an average of one night in Swaziland.

“We have a beautiful country, but are we fully researched on what would make a tourist want to spend a week in Swaziland?”
Also expressing his thoughts on the country’s tourism sector, renowned Governance Specialist at the University of South Africa’s School of Governance Dumsani Hlophe was quite confident in this sector’s ability to bolster economic growth. He said the first thing Swaziland should consider doing is defining the country’s competitive edge.

Hlophe was quite forthcoming with reality when he said Swaziland’s neighbours, Mozambique and South Africa are crowd-pullers where tourism is concerned and that to outdo these two countries, Swaziland must really find something that would make it stand out.

While appreciating strides that have been made in the tourism industry, Hlophe cautioned that Swaziland tends to market the product rather than the experience. “If you tell me that I should come and see five lions at Magadzavane, chances are you won’t win me as I can easily go to the Kruger National Park to see plenty more lions than you are offering in Swaziland.

“But if you tell me about traditions, the royal family and the experience I am to have, you have won me. Everyone wants a smartphone today and not just any cellphone because smartphones give an experience. Swaziland should market the experience and not just the product where tourism is concerned.”

Providing further details on the experience aspect of tourism in Swaziland, Hlophe shared that in the past, tourists would never leave the country without visiting the Why Not Disco at Ezulwini.

He also shared that another surprise favourite hangout spot for him and other ‘Joburgers’ in Swaziland is the Cosy Corner Bar and eatery at Checkers in Mbabane. “That place is dusty, but we still want to go there for the meat and everything. Why? Because of the experience,” he said amidst murmurs of laughter from the amused audience.

Hlophe was one of the panellists during the Roundtable Discussion. His presentation was titled ‘Making Long Term Plans Successful – the Case for Swaziland’s Vision 2022’. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister urged that all research, ideas, thoughts and other information presented at this conference be crystallised into clear ways forward which will be understood by all. He acknowledged that government cannot possibly work in isolation, but is in need of think tanks to inform policies and decision-making.