The Government of Swaziland, an impoverished African nation with no coastline, has backed a plan to build a shipping port which will cost an estimated US$3 billion.
The scheme follows the completion of an ‘international’ airport, built in a wilderness that cost an estimated US$250 million to construct. Fewer than 150 passengers fly out of the King Mswati III Airport at Sikhuphe on any given day.
Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the King appoints members of the government.
The airport, dubbed a ‘vanity project’ by aviation experts and the port are part of the King’s effort to turn his kingdom into a ‘First World’ nation by 2022.
At present, seven in ten of the 1.3 million population live in abject poverty with incomes of less than US$2 per day. Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world and this year it is estimated that at least one-third of the population will need international food aid to avoid starvation.
Meanwhile, the King has 13 palaces, a private jet aircraft and fleets of BMW and Mercedes cars, which he shares with his 14 wives and vast royal family.
The plan is to build a 26-kilometre canal from the Mozambican sea to Mlawula, where the port will be constructed on 15 to 20 hectares of land.
Media in Swaziland report it will cost an estimated E30 billion (US$3 billion).The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom where most news media are censored, reported the plan was confirmed by Minister of Commerce, Industry and Trade Gideon Dlamini.
The Times reported him saying, ‘At government level, we are fully behind the project and we are giving it undivided support. The project owners had done presentations to Cabinet and we interrogated it and found that it is a wonderful one. Following Cabinet’s realisation that the project is good and viable, Prime Minister [Barnabas] Sibusiso Dlamini then tasked the different concerned ministries to start working together with the project owners straight away.’
The ministries involved are the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Ministry of Public Works and Transport, Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade, Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.
The plan is headed by Moses Motsa, who is often described in the Swazi and South African media as a ‘billionaire’, but it is not clear in which currency he holds his billion.
The Times reported, ‘Dlamini went on to say that each of the ministries had been given specific responsibilities that are in support of business magnate Moses Motsa and his partners. One of the most critical issues that the business proprietors need to be assisted in is having an agreement with the Mozambican Government as the port will be established through a canal coming from the Indian Ocean from the Republic of Mozambique.
‘In this regard, Dlamini said, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation was assigned by the PM to engage with Mozambique with the aim of reaching an agreement over accessing the sea.’
The Times reported Motsa saying the port would harbour big vessels and with docking for up to four ships at once.