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Mbabane - Because all other ways to jumpstart its economy have failed, Swaziland might consider cashing in on one of its truly natural assets – a strain of marijuana that grows only in the tiny landlocked country.

 

Swaziland has few natural resources and its small internal market offers no incentive to foreign investors, who stopped coming years ago. Under sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy, Swaziland is stuck in a medieval time warp of all-powerful chiefs, a king who is presented by the royal family as being semi-divine and a large landless peasant population. Politically, Freedom House’s listing of Swaziland as “not free” is almost a euphemism.

But Swaziland does have dagga. Forests full of cannabis, or insangu as the Swazis call the plant, sprout in the northern mountains and rain-fed central region – like the weed it actually is.

An ounce of high-quality marijuana costs $3 (R30) on the streets of Mbabane, compared to about $241 in Europe. Because of its potency, lower grades are simply unavailable in Swaziland.

But the government does not benefit from the nation’s marijuana because the informal infrastructure that grows and trades dagga operates out of view, like any criminal enterprise.

Clearly, money is to be made on a larger scale if marijuana were decriminalised. But because drug laws date back to the colonial era when Britain administered the Swazi territory as a protectorate, beneficiaries of the dagga trade are foreign criminals. Interpol says Nigerian and South African drug runners have pipelines into Swaziland. They pay growers nominal fees for their harvests, which they export via South Africa.

Peasant farmers cultivate the weed in the crevices of hills and locations away from their homesteads, working during early morning hours to avoid detection. There are no large-scale marijuana plantations because these would be found and destroyed by police.

No Swazi grower becomes rich because the buyers pay little. The price for sale locally is depressed by the widespread availability of the weed.

That could change if Swaziland were to legalise and regulate a plant that has gained more positive publicity worldwide than anything Swaziland has thus far produced.

Independent Foreign Service