‘Talking shop’ has its rewards

The smart partnership movement that started with the Langkawi International Dialogue in 1995 entered its eighth year with the staging of the Global 2003 International Dialogue in Swaziland recently.K.Y.PUNG highlights some of the events that occurred

MARRIED Swazi men keep a spare hut in their house compounds for sex. Their multiple wives have to housekeep this hut but they must not sleep in it. Swazi men are adamant in defending this generations-old tradition, claiming it as a right that is beyond dispute. 

“It is my right. I am a man,” stated 35-year-old driver Themba Makaguna who admits to keeping a mistress. 

Themba’s strict observance of tradition is passed down and has worked for Swazi society. 

The late King Sobhuza II had over 40 wives and sired 600 children during his 63-year reign, and now his son King Mswati III, 35, who ascended the throne at age 18, has 10 official wives. 

Each year, he may choose another young wife by merely touching one of the over 15,000 bare-breasted, 18-year-old girls who dance at the Queen Mother’s palace in Lobamba during the Umhlanga (reed dance) ritual. 

Against this backdrop of traditional male chauvinism, young Swazis like Themba worked as part of the larger machinery that successfully staged Global 2003, the biggest ever smart partnership international dialogue held recently in Ezulwini Valley (also Heavenly Valley). 

As was the norm, local issues formed part of the themes of the host country. For Global 2003 host Swaziland, the sub-theme was about balancing tradition with modernity. 

Explaining why local themes were included during the dialogues, Commonwealth Partnership for Technology Management (CPTM) chairman Tan Sri Dr Omar Abdul Rahman, who is also joint dialogue convenor, said it was to raise awareness and achieve self-enlightenment, which was the prerequisite of any action. 

He said delegates shared in and used the dialogue as a means for networking in a win-win situation and a “prosper thy neighbour” philosophy.  

Local issues for the Swazis, he added, were its new draft constitution and the Swazi national dialogue. 

Datin Seri Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, who was actively involved in the dialogue session on Social Issues Link, said there was more acknowledgement on gender equality among Swazis and the need for action against poverty and HIV/AIDS through education. 

For a start, she said, local delegates who included members of the Swaziland government had agreed to ensure that more Swazi girls were given schooling. Education for girls had been neglected because of the belief that boys were more precious than girls. 

Swaziland’s Minister of Economic Development Prince Guduza, as joint dialogue convenor of Global 2003, affirmed that it was because of the belief in smart partnership that King Mswati III had consented to the first-ever national dialogue to discuss issues affecting the kingdom. 

He said participants from the government, business and labour organisations had sat face to face with the King and had an open and frank discussion on issues affecting the kingdom, especially relating to a new Constitution that is being drafted. 

“The national dialogue helped to break down barriers especially on the issue of balancing traditional values with modernity,” he said, adding that the international dialogue “may not necessarily bring food on the table but may provide the tools” for all concerned to better themselves. 

At the Global 2003 village in Ezulwini, King Mswati III took the opportunity to request bilateral talks with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad on the sidelines of the dialogue. The result was Malaysia’s offer to assist Swaziland with its ongoing constitutional reform. 

At another bilateral talk, Namibian President Dr Sam Nujoma invited Malaysia to invest in his country's diamond and copper mining, fishing and farming sector. 

Dr Nujoma knows only too well that a Malaysian investment has blossomed to become Namibia's largest employer, providing jobs to 6,000 workers.  

Sudan has also awarded a concession area to Petronas to explore for oil and gas. Petronas Sub-Saharan business development general manager George Paul said Petronas was involved with two other consortia in Sudan’s oil sector and had laid the longest pipeline in the African continent in Sudan. 

Without mincing his words, Sudan President Lt Jen (rtd) Omer Hassan El-Beshir said during a dialogue session with about 800 delegates: “The principle agreements for oil exploration were signed with major Western oil companies in 1975. After 25 years of obtaining concessions over vast tracks of land and offshore territory, nothing of substance came out of all these years under the pretence of lack of security. 

“There was no way except to scrap the old arrangements and start afresh with new partners from China, Malaysia and other independent companies. The result is that Sudan is now fully satisfying its domestic needs and exporting 250,000 barrels a day.” 

Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting, who was with the Malaysian delegation to Global 2003, said it was because of smart partnership that Petronas had cornered 40% of the oil sector in southern Africa. 

He said Malaysian developers and investors were also benefiting from massive projects undertaken in a number of Southern African nations. The network of Engen petrol kiosks in South Africa and Swaziland, owned by a subsidiary of Petronas, is proof of the tangible results of dialogue. 

Business deals may also firm up for two Malaysian businessmen who signed memorandums of understanding with the Swaziland government to develop a national ICT blueprint for the kingdom, which has only 7,000 Internet users, and in tourism development.  

The two firms are Applied Information Management Services Sdn Bhd and Travellynne & Tours Sdn Bhd.  

Certainly, there have been scepticism about the dialogues being just “talk shops” and this may be true only because earlier dialogues were formative ones. 

Tracking the timeline of the eight-year-old movement, one can see the spiralling dialogues that have passed through the first loop of spreading the effectiveness of the dialogue tool to the Commonwealth; the second loop of showing the limitless opportunities that were open to smart partnership as a movement; and the third of putting ideas on the table and at work. 

The movement has matured and is entering its fourth loop, which deals with aligning the smart partnership movement with the global context. It released a strong statement entitled “The Way Forward from Ezulwini”, which stipulated action plans to enable developing countries to make quantum leap in development, set standard in dealing with genetically modified food, and create information database at national, regional, and international level. 

To forge a united voice, the movement has named Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Africa Union chairman and Mozambique President Joachim Chissano as its spokesmen. 

The first task of the joint spokesmen is to voice the movement’s united stand on trade and globalisation issues to the World Trade Organisation, which is meeting in Cancun, Mexico, on Sept 10. 

Ong observed that Southern African leaders had high hopes and praises for Dr Mahathir when they chose him to speak for the movement. The leaders felt that Dr Mahathir, as Non-Aligned Movement chairman, was an influential voice in the international forums, Ong said. “I was witness to how so many African leaders put so much hopes on him. Many sought Dr Mahathir’s experience and wisdom and inquired how Malaysia had managed to turn its agrarian economy into a manufacturing-based one.” 

Dr Mahathir’s thoughts may have sparked off a revolution in mind-set, as outside the dialogue marquee, delegates were spotted reading his book, a compilation of his speeches on Globalisation, Smart Partnership and Government. 

They also rushed for copies of his keynote address titled “Co-creating our destiny: the smart partnership way” at the opening ceremony. 

A most poignant moment was when Dr Mahathir chatted for 10 minutes with a 10-year-old Swazi boy. He promised to sponsor the boy’s trip to Malaysia if the latter fared well in his studies. To this, the boy has vowed to study hard.  

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