from SAMBULO DLAMINI in Mbabane, Eswatini
MBABANE, (CAJ News) – ENDURING increased food security and an economy that is in the middle of a coronavirus-fuelled economic recession, Eswatini is in a precarious position as it embarks on a rebuilding exercise after weeks of deadly civil strife.
While the spotlight has been on the pro-democracy protests that left at least 50 people dead and left a trail of destruction, economic crises are brewing.
This renders rebuilding Africa’s last absolute monarch after arguably its worst political crisis in almost 53 years of independence an arduous task.
Eswatini is still feeling the impact of poor rainfall in the 2019/20 rainy season. This culminated in below-average crop performance.
The 2020 Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis Report estimates annual cereal requirements at 252 560 tonnes.
There is a current deficit of 161 170 tonnes.
Drought-prone Eswatini has perennially failed to meet its consumption requirements depending on imports and food aid to cover gaps.
The government and the World Food Programme (WFP) have confirmed food insecurity remains high in the landlocked Southern African nation of more than 1,1 million people.
King Mswati III’s administration and the United Nations agency have noted increased food insecurity on urban areas mainly brought about by consistently high food prices, loss of income and livelihood for the urban population.
“With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic the situation is expected to worsen for the population,” they stated.
Eswatini has recorded 20 489 cases, including a total of 696 deaths as of July 15.
Declared a national emergency following an outbreak in March last year, the pandemic has worsened the food insecurity challenges in Eswatini.
The scourge has pushed prices of staple food items up, with the maize meal retail prices trending above the five-year average.
In its latest report on the country, released in March this year, Save the Children disclosed over 347 000 people – including 180 000 children – in Eswatini faced acute food shortages and needed urgent humanitarian assistance
The figure included nearly 60 000 Emaswati experiencing emergency levels of hunger.
Save the Children said the tiny nation between the coincidentally volatile Mozambique and South Africa had reached “a tipping point.”
The Central Statistical Office (CSO) reported the economy was in a technical recession in the first quarter of 2020 majorly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Central Bank of Eswatini disclosed the quarterly gross domestic product, slumped by 6,5 percent on a yearly basis.
The economy is projected to grow by a modest 1,4 percent in 2021, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Earlier this week, political leaders lamented the economic impact of damage to property during the recent looting and burning of business properties that characterised protests.
“The damage to property has taken the country back economically,” said Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Prince Simelane.
He was addressing mayors and other local authority leaders as the nation resumes the rebuilding exercise as the dust settles on the protests.
Victor Rodrigues, the Mayor of the north-western Pigg’s Peak, said protests had left towns resembling ruins.
“It is indeed a sad time for local government,” the mayor bemoaned.
Property estimated at over US$205 million was destroyed.
“EmaSwati should guard against the culture of intolerance even when holding differing viewpoints,” Acting Prime Minister, Themba Masuku, appealed after inspecting property damaged in the northern Hhohho.
The Swaziland Solidarity Network doubted the authenticity of the monarch’s calls for dialogue when the military were still deployed on the streets.
Mokgweetsi Masisi, the Chairperson of the Southern African Development (SADC) Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, insisted that dialogue was the solution.
Masisi, the Botswana president, deployed a SADC “fact finding” mission to Eswatini on July 4.
The mission is back to consult with stakeholders, until July 22.
“It is our hope that all concerned parties will continue to uphold and embrace peaceful means in addressing their differences and challenges,” Masisi said.
– CAJ News