King Mswati has directed Swaziland's college graduates to leave the country to find employment, admitting that a lack of jobs at home gives them no alternative.
"We can export our skills to other countries and international organisations in order to bring home foreign currencies," said the king, speaking at the University of Swaziland in Kwaluseni, 30km east of the capital, Mbabane.
Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, is the Chancellor of the university, which is located near his principal palace at Lozitha. His speech was read to graduates by his older brother, Prince Masitsela.
For two decades, poverty alleviation through job creation has been the centrepiece of the government's economic policies. But employment has not kept pace with population growth, and unemployment has hovered between 26 percent and 45 percent, depending on whether the informal sector is included in the statistics.
Swaziland's labour unions say informal-sector jobs should not be counted in the same way as formal-sector employment, which offers higher wages and benefits and more security.
The 1,500 graduates leaving Swaziland's only university this week face little prospect of non-governmental employment worthy of their degrees. Since the 1990s, foreign direct investment has been aimed at the manufacturing sector, which uses low-wage labour, typically women, who are paid so poorly they often depend on money lenders to get through the month.
The king's call for educated Swazis to leave the country to find jobs harks back to his great-grandmother, who at the turn of the 20th century called on Swazi men to seek work in South African mines and send back their wages to a communal fund used to buy back Swazi land confiscated by British colonial authorities.
Although nurses are in demand in Europe, most young educated Swazis are likely to seek employment in neighbouring South Africa. But because of the rising cost of living abroad, some observers doubt that Swazi migrants will be able to repatriate their earnings to the families they left behind in a country where two-thirds of the people live in chronic poverty.
"After 40 years of independence the [royal] ruling class decides to abdicate its socio-economic responsibility to the people by encouraging graduate Swazis to emigrate elsewhere in order to eke out a living," said political commentator Vusi Sibisi, who writes a column in the independent Times of Swaziland.
Other commentators have gone as far as suggesting a government-encouraged brain drain has a political benefit by ridding the country of middle-class technocrats that historically have been the driving force behind democratic reform.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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