Mozambique, Eswatini relations rejuvenate economies

By Khulile Thwala

Mozambique and Eswatini are not only border-sharing countries but the collaborative relationship between the two members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has fostered inter-trade, resource sharing, and labour exchange, which strengthens the two economies.

The relationship between the two countries is further fostering the main objectives of SADC which are to achieve economic development, peace and security, and growth, alleviate poverty, enhance the standard and quality of life of the peoples of Southern Africa, and support the socially disadvantaged through regional integration.

Chiefly, the relationship between these two countries has been strengthened mainly by resource sharing which dates as far back as 1976, when a water-sharing agreement was inked and has continued to solidify the friendship. This agreement established the basis for the two countries to implement storage infrastructures, the Mnjoli Dam in Eswatini and the Pequenos Limbobos in Mozambique.

Demonstrating the two country’s commitment to economic development through regional integration, Mozambique’s Minister of Public Works, Housing and Water Resources Carlos Alberto Fortes Mesquita visited Eswatini where, alongside his counterpart, acting Minister of Natural Resources and Energy Jabulani Mabuza toured the Maguga and Mnjoli Dam, which are shared water resources between the two countries.

The Eswatini Financial Times, in a bid to demonstrate the interconnectedness between the two countries, gives a comprehensive breakdown of the yield of the relationship thus far based on information shared during the two-day tour and orientation.

What is the 1976 water-sharing agreement between Eswatini & Mozambique?

This agreement was signed between Eswatini and Mozambique in 1976 and established the basis for the two countries to implement storage infrastructures, namely the Mnjoli Dam locally and the Pequenos Limbobos in Mozambique.

Within the scope of interconnected water basins between the two and South Africa, the Incomati and Maputo Hydrographic Basin, in 1983 a Tripartite Technical Standing Committee was established, whose objective is to recommend to the three governments measures to be taken to alleviate short-term problems related to the scarcity of water during dry periods. 

In 1999, the Joint Water Commission Agreement between Mozambique and Eswatini (JWC) was signed, to develop water resources of common interest. Furthermore, in 2002, Mozambique and Eswatini signed the IncoMaputo Interim Agreement to guarantee the defence of Mozambique’s interests through comprehensive agreements that guarantee water in the quantity and quality necessary for the development of both countries, as well as joint measures to mitigate floods and droughts. 

Recently, in 2021, the two countries signed the establishment and hosting agreements of the Incomáti and Maputo Watercourses Commission, whose objective is to promote cooperation between the parties to ensure the development, protection, and sustainable use of water resources. In these basins, in 2012 and 2013, studies were also carried out that culminated in the elaboration of joint strategies for the management of floods, droughts and pollution.

How the two countries benefitted from the water-sharing agreement

As the period between 2015 and 2019 was characterised by low rainfall in both countries, the shared water basin, known as the Umbelúzi or Umbuluzi river basin, suffered low storage, with the Pequenos Libombos Dam in Mozambique, recording the lowest storage in its area history, threatening the entire water environment, the water supply to the cities of Maputo, Matola and Boane, as well as agricultural and industrial production in Maputo Province.

To avert a situation of severe drought in those areas, in 2019 the Mnjoli Dam discharged 18 million cubic meters of water into the territory of Mozambique against the 17 million cubic meters requested by Mozambique as per the water sharing agreement. According to the Mozambique Minister of Water Resources, Mesquita, this operation was carried out without any consideration. 

The reserves of the Pequenos Libombos Dam rose from 29 per cent to 34 per cent, creating a situation of comfort and relief from the problem of water scarcity to supply the populations of the cities of Maputo, Matola and surrounding areas. 

The Mozambique minister, Mesquita during his tour, further shared how the Kingdom of Eswatini quickly collaborated with Mozambique, when there was a fuel spill in the Umbelúzi river basin, which shows the spirit of cooperation and camaraderie, existing between the two sister countries.

Potential benefits of the relationship going forward:

The Acting Minister of Natural Resources and Energy Mabuza and Mesquita said the water agreement promoted cooperation between the parties to ensure the development, protection, and sustainable use of water resources with the ultimate aim of contributing to the well-being of the Mozambican and Swati people.

It was further mentioned that a future of cooperation and collaboration between the two countries on different fronts is inevitable shared resource management because of climate change, high environmental awareness, the need to preserve aquatic ecosystems, and the increasing competition for the use and sharing of limited water resources.

However, worth noting is that the ministers further noted gaps within the 1976 agreement, which they stated called for a review of the agreement.

“The agreement indeed needs to be reviewed to cover new emerging issues such as climate change, improving information sharing, and also determine water development projects that can be done equitably to advance the economies of the two countries,” said Mabuza. 

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