TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

Swaziland: "We should learn from AGOA loss"

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Source: Swazi Observer

Two years ago, I wrote on this very column how disappointing government was in the handling of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) issue.

 I remember vividly describing it as a catastrophe so dreadful to be likened to Tsunami proportions.

Last week, United States (US) President Donald Trump gave a green light to the restoration of the country’s eligibility for AGOA, which in all honesty is massive relieve for the country and the only good news we have received from Hospital Hill in the past year, if not Cabinet’s entire term thus far.

Coming at the back of a difficult year in terms of the economy, a year in which we have had high unemployment, the readmission of the country into AGOA is that important going into the New Year.

Given that 2018 is going to be a year of celebration for the Kingdom of Eswatini, the news couldn’t have come at a better time. Now, we are going to have to make quick gains to make this meaningful for the average person, and to stimulate the economy.

Of course, one must quickly point out that there have been critics of the AGOA arrangement, and how it does not do as much as it promises. But, let us spare a thought for those who benefit direct, and the impact this has in each of their families.

How could we have celebrated our golden jubilee enthusiastically knowing very well that over 20 000 tax-paying citizens were jobless and stranded in Ndlunganye, Eteni, Mhlaleni, Logoba and all the other surrounding areas in Matsapha, with absolutely no means of making a living but crime?

We must also look deep into the meaning of the AGOA victory to us as a Nation.

This passage into the trade dealings with the United States, which is what AGOA offers proves that Swazis and Swaziland as a whole CAN do it. It proves that we ARE capable of working together for one common goal.

Certainly it has taken that kind of effort to pull this through, and for once we can honestly say that when we come together we can produce good results. It proves that we CAN align ourselves with the world’s standards. It proves that we HAVE made progress on issues pertaining the rule of law and protection of internationally recognised human rights.

Meeting the benchmark on the Suppression of Terrorism Act in particular is also a passage of the amendment of the Act, and proves to naysayers of our system of governance that progression is possible in this country.

To address this case of the two benchmarks that was demanded of the country was clearly an issue of being seeing to be adhering and conforming to certain ideals. So politically, the readmission of the country into AGOA is great victory for Swaziland, especially politically and I am in particularly overjoyed for the textile workers who will now albeit the meagre salaries be able to pay school-fess for their children with ‘Janu-worry’ as termed by some being only just hours away.

I imagine that those at Hospital Hill would not mind gloating a bit over the successful admission back into AGOA, especially because there were a lot of difficult words said and criticism of their ineptitude that led to the loss of so much for the country. It is difficult not to be overly critical of government when such things happen, especially given that there were a lot of persuasion that happened before AGOA was yanked out of Swaziland. There was a lot of pleas from a lot of people to try and adhere to the demands. And from where some of us sit, it tended to look as though there were more important things than being seeing to working to meet the benchmarks. This therefore led to a lot of frustration from all of us who want and mean well for this country.

I know for certain Winnie Magagula has reason to prance with a little swagger over the success of AGOA readmission. The Labour and Social Security minister came under a lot of criticism, sometimes feeling unjustly criticised. Praise must now be heaped on her for steering the negotiations and being behind all of the hard work that has seen us where we are.

I am sure she even feels like we are not grateful enough considering that at a point in time, she was even chucked out of Parliament by Members of Parliament (MPs) who were playing to the gallery and trying to score cheap political points as always.

And for that reason, we should congratulate the minister, but she must remember that her job at hand was to make sure that the country retains the AGOA status. Hopefully, she can look to a few positive glowing reviews from a few people!

However, in as much as she deserves the praise that goes with this, one must point out that this victory is for King and Country. This victory is for the nation. Everyone has played their part to see us where we are, and we must be quick to raise this, because were it not for a lot of these things coming together, we would still be doing a back and forth with no possible success.

It is worth pointing out that of course politicians are paid the big cheque for such things—they are there to earn their money. This year, is what we expect of them, to work hard to put the country first. To work hard to do the thankless task.

No one is doing the nation a favour, or proving anyone right. Instead, politicians, as did those Members of Parliament who ensured the laws were passed and met the expectation, as well as those who have been critical of the country to ensure these laws were enacted. This is, as I said earlier, a collective effort for the good of our country.

While the minister has done her part, we must be careful not to gloat—definitely for personal glory.

What this does, admittedly, for the minister is give her CV must colourful to celebrate, that she was the minister when the country gained readmission into AGOA. Well done.

But, the more important thing her is take stock of this painful two-year experience. This was a learning curve for us as a country, and we should deal with it as such. There are so many issues where we are misrepresented, or where we need to do better, or where we need to protect the greater interests of the Nation.

There are a lot of areas to improve in order for this country to do better globally, and benefit from what the global village offers. The loss of AGOA means that a lot of people lost jobs; a lot of innocent souls were trafficked, in the desperation for jobs; a lot happened—a lot suffered.

That is what we must protect. That is what we must fight hard for. We as a nation should do much better.

As we head into our double celebrations, let us be mindful of what the bigger picture us—and that is to stay united as a nation and to enjoy our peace and stability.

With all this in mind, one would expect a vigorous change from government, a change characteristic of the PM, but we are still awaiting on it. In-fact, I am reminded of the casual approach they took towards restoring AGOA at first, and this is scary to say the least, because it spells gloom and doom.

For a long time, we paraded a self-entitlement attitude, as we probably thought AGOA was owed to us, maybe for being too unique and peaceful, or for being poverty stricken, I do not know.  What I do know however is that it didn’t work out which is why we only met two of the required five benchmarks in well 4 years really, when you consider that we were alarmed about the set benchmarks back in 2010.

To be more precise, it cuts-short our AGOA celebrations, because it succinctly tells us that we are a Nation being led by people who are removed from reality. They have without a shadow of a doubt proven before that they are birdbrains who will first play marbles and point fingers before getting ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

So, as we celebrate this victory, I would like to ask this question that keeps on bothering me, and I am sure Lisa Paterson has asked herself too – has the Swazi government learnt anything from losing AGOA and only regaining it a good 24 months after?

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