At the end of May this year, more than 20,000 people converged on a farm outside Swaziland’s capital Mbabane for the annual Bushfire music festival. The festival has been going since 2007, and attracts music lovers from as far afield as Germany.
Learning about the festival was a pleasant surprise for Deon Appelcryn, the recently appointed country manager of DHL Express in Swaziland. Prior to taking up his current role, Appelcryn worked for DHL in South Africa for over a decade in various positions. Despite being a keen musician himself, Appelcryn had never before heard of Bushfire. “In all my years of doing music, I was completely unaware of Bushfire. It is quite a big event. Most South Africans don’t know about the festival.”
The tiny kingdom of Swaziland is surrounded by South Africa, except to the east where it shares a border with Mozambique. Swaziland’s proximity to South Africa, the continent’s second largest economy, means that it is often overlooked from a business perspective.
However, Appelcryn says Swaziland holds many surprises, like the Bushfire festival, for those not familiar with the country.
“There are many misconceptions about Swaziland. It is really a gem right on South Africa’s doorstep – a beautiful country with very warm people. Despite a fluctuating economy, many local business people are doing very well, and as DHL we also see significant opportunities to grow our own business in Swaziland,” says Appelcryn.
Swaziland’s economy is expected to grow by a modest 2% this year, down from an estimated 3.5% in 2013. Manufacturing activities, especially sugar and textiles, account for the largest portion of GDP, with agriculture, retail, real estate, financial services and telecoms also strong contributors.
Considering its small size, Swaziland is relatively well connected to the rest of the world in terms of trade.
South Africa is the largest single market for Swazi goods. South African firms also play a significant role in the economy – three of its top four banks have a presence in Swaziland, as do many major supermarket chains.
South Africa’s current economic troubles and a slowdown in growth, does however pose risks for Swaziland.
The textile industry is also likely to be in for a challenging time. Swaziland was recently removed as a beneficiary of the US African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which allows eligible countries to export certain products to the US duty free. The industry currently relies heavily on AGOA to remain competitive.
Growing beyond the cities
A large part of the Swazi population lives in semi-urban and rural areas that are often underserved by big business. Appelcryn says DHL is actively growing its retail footprint beyond the major urban centres to better service customers in the outlying regions.
This is part of DHL’s strategy to boost its number of service points in sub-Saharan Africa’s informal and rural areas, and connect local small and medium enterprises to the international marketplace.
“Despite rapid urbanisation across Africa, the majority of the population is still rural. Throughout the continent, it is DHL’s ambition to bring people closer to the global economy, and Swaziland is no different,” explains Appelcryn.