There’ll be some changes made
Apart from being landlocked, what do eSwatini and Switzerland have in common? Um... can I call a friend?
In December 1921, African-American composer Benton Overstreet and lyricist Billy Higgins gave the world the jazz standard, There’ll be Some Changes Made. Ethel Waters was the first to record it back then. It’s since been covered nearly 400 times by luminaries including
Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and Mark Knopfler.
In Africa, Waters’s recording coincided with the coronation of King Sobhuza II, predecessor of King Mswati III, current ruler of Swaziland (apologies
– I mean eSwatini). On the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence from Britain, King Mswati announced that the country would henceforth be known as eSwatini. He described the move as “overdue, particularly if you consider how other countries in the region localised their names after independence”.
The name change is nothing new: Botswana dropped its former name of Bechuanaland post-independence, as did Rhodesia in becoming Zimbabwe and Nyasaland in becoming Malawi.
King Mswati reportedly added that the decision to rename Swaziland was also an attempt to avoid people confusing it with Switzerland. Er... run that by me again, Your Majesty?
eSwatini is a poor country – especially when you compare its gross domestic product (GDP) of
$11,3 billion and GDP per capita of $9 714 with Switzerland’s respective values of $681 billion and
$80 837. Then there’s its quality of life, as measured by the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI) according to criteria such as life expectancy at birth, expected years of schooling, mean years of schooling and per capita gross national income. In a ranking of 188 countries, Switzerland is joint second with Australia, beaten only by Norway. eSwatini is a lame 148th, better only than the likes of Yemen, Haiti and Syria.
When the Swiss complain about high unemployment, they mean 5%. The country’s home to multinational companies, the World Health Organisation, the Bank for International Settlements and Fifa, with a government which took bold decisions to dominate the world economic order – despite glitches such as creating a tax haven and allowing African dictators to stash stolen billions in its banks.
Even without the mineral resources that eSwatini has, Switzerland’s still a manufacturing Mecca. Chemicals, pharmaceutical goods, watches and chocolate account for at least 70% of its exports, compared with 37% from manufacturing and 50% from services – primarily government ones – for eSwatini. With neighbours like SA, eSwatini could up its game on manufacturing and source markets in the region and abroad, as Lesotho did with textiles.
On the basis of what economists term “purchasing power parity”, the GDP of eSwatini is less than the 2017 net trading profit of Nestlé, at $14,7 billion. So just by selling coffee and products like Milo, Kit-Kat and Smarties, one Swiss company delivered more money to its shareholders than the value of Mswati’s entire kingdom.
Having said that, let me stress my respect for the pride of Swazi subjects in their heritage and sovereign. The country, for instance, inaugurated the R2,5 billion King Mswati III International Airport, connected by a world-class road to Mbabane. To date, there are about three flights daily between Johannesburg and this under-utilised airport. eSwatini could generate a lot more revenue by introducing flights between Swaziland and Durban and other cities in southern Africa.
In addition to infrastructure projects, like the
332 million-cubic metre Maguga Dam constructed in collaboration with SA in 2001, and the underexploited tourism potential of the country, eSwatini has mining headroom to exploit in minerals such as coal, diamonds, gold, kaolin and silica, as well as copper, manganese and tin.
Let’s see if it can achieve far deeper transformation than its new title.
Opener Women in traditional costumes marching at Umhlanga aka Reed Dance. 01 The Maguga Dam and reservoir on the Komati River, eSwatini.02 Zurich. Switzerland.
Victor Kgomoeswana is the author of the book Africa is Open for Business(Pan Macmillan).