While Swaziland and Indian political leaders engage in mutual back-slapping about the amount of investment India is making in the undemocratic kingdom, we ought to remember what happened to a past promise.
In 2015, King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, visited India to drum up investment in his impoverished kingdom.
A year later he was credited with bringing an Indian-based company JSW Energy to Swaziland in an E7 billion (US$500 million) deal to build a thermal power plant. It was intended to generate enough electricity to supply all Swaziland’s needs and have some left over to export. In less than two years the deal was in tatters.
The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported on 22 October 2016, ‘The fruits of His Majesty King Mswati III’s visit to India just about the same time last year is bearing fruits as JSW Energy Limited, a subsidiary of the JSW group of companies, has brought good news to the country.’
It went on to report the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between JSW and the parastatal Swaziland Electricity Company (SEC). The deal was for JSW to build a thermal power station that would use Swaziland coal.
Swaziland’s Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini who signed the MOU said, ‘It is an MOU which, when the subsequent agreements are operationalised, will perhaps rank as the catalyst in the future economic development of our country.’
The PM, who was not elected to his office but personally appointed by the King, went on to praise King Mswati for exploring the possibility of investor interest in constructing the power station.
After the flurry of publicity, nothing much happened. Less than two years later in March 2018, it was admitted the project was dead in the water. The Observer on Saturday reported (31 March 2018) that the MOU had ‘elapsed with no progress being made’.
It quoted Winnie Stewart, the Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy, saying the feasibility study on the project that was supposed to be done was not finalised during the life of the MOU. Stewart said government had told SEC to complete the study and then it would put the project out to tender.
During his visit to Swaziland in April 2018, Indian President Shri Ram Nath Kovind confirmed a number of loans running into tens of millions of US dollars his country would make available to Swaziland. He also made a donation of US1 million toward feeding starving children in Swaziland. King Mswati then threw the President a banquet.
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