– 6/5/11 Peter Clifford –
THE LAST ABSOLUTE MONARCH IN AFRICA:
While pro-democracy demonstrations and battles continue around the world, notably in Syria, Yemen and Libya at the current time, protests in a small country in southern Africa against suppression and autocratic rule seem to have gone largely unnoticed.
Swaziland is a tiny kingdom, just 6,704 square miles in area and with a population of 1.2 million, surrounded by South Africa on three sides and with a northern eastern border against Mozambique.
While South Africa and Mozambique (both of which I have visited several times) have had their problems, and still have some, noticeably corruption, their elections are generally considered free and fair.
In Swaziland, all power ultimately lies in the hands of King Mswati lll who rules by royal degree and says his county “is not yet ready for multi-party politics”.
Quite why he says this becomes clear when you discover that he lives a very privileged lifestyle in royal palaces with 14 wives (yes, 14, that is not a misprint!), twenty children and a fleet of expensive cars. He did back down however when there were protests about him buying a private jet.
How considerate! – while meanwhile 40% of his population are unemployed, more than 25% are HIV positive (the highest rate in the world), 63% earn less than $1.25 a day and 80% less than $2 (USAID 2010).
Life expectancy is just 50 years for men and only 48 years for women according to the UN (appalling when compared with over 77 years for men and over 80 years for women in the UK).
The King’s net wealth is estimated at $100 million and he has trusteeship of a $10 billion dollar fund. The extreme wealth therefore of just one person skews the Gross National Income per capita to an average of $2,470 per person.
As a result, the World Bank classifies Swaziland as “lower middle income”, thereby disqualifying it from a whole host of useful foreign aid partnership programmes and denying the poorest in its society the urgent help that they need.
During the recent world economic crisis Swaziland’s economy has more or less collapsed and what aid there is has been withheld because of concerns about corruption.
Just to add to the obscenity of this situation, King Mswati recently attended the Royal Wedding celebrations of Prince William and Kate Middleton in London, reputedly staying for several days at one of the luxury hotels, either Claridges or The Dorchester, with an entourage of 50 at a minimum double room rate of £450 a night (does he book 14 doubles, one for each wife, I wonder?).
And far from being sympathetic to the problems of his population, in a debate in Parliament in 2000 he said HIV positive people should be “sterilised and branded”.
More recently, earlier this year, the Swazi government cut the salaries of its civil servants by 10% while approving an increase in the annual allowance for the King from $24 million to $30 million.
Mswati also manages to control the press and suppresses anything he doesn’t like. When a photograph of his new $500,000 car appeared in the media, he promptly banned all photography of royal vehicles.
Similarly, when he was cuckolded by his Justice Minister, a former friend (it must be so hard keeping track of 14 wives!), he placed his 22 year old wife under house arrest and prevented the newspapers from carrying the story (though the nearby South African media follows everything with great interest and in this particular case unrestrained glee).
This madness, sadly real, reminds me of a Terry Jones fairy story for children called “Touch The Moon”. The king in the story becomes totally obsessed with building a tower so high that if he stands on tiptoe he can touch the moon.
In the process of trying to achieve this mad desire the king demolishes half his capital city to make way for the tower, digs up the rest of the kingdom to quarry stone for it, impoverishes his people and almost kills his daughter, before he realises what a fool he has been.
While King Mswati may not be a bad person in himself, at the age of 43 and having been educated at Sherbourne School in Dorset in the UK, you would think he would have more sense than to endlessly squander his wealth in the faces of his impoverished people.
Presumably he is surrounded by a cluster of sycophantic ministers who, busy feathering their own nests, are not going to bring him into the real world and tell him the truth. He should be intelligent enough to know that the more you suppress people, the more you will build resistance.
No wonder then that for a country with such good exportable natural resources (coal, asbestos, sugar, wood pulp and crushed stone for roads) yet such high unemployment and 38% of the population under 14 years of age, the King’s heavy handed autocratic rule is at last being challenged.
On 12th April 2011, following strikes by trade unions in previous years which have gone unheeded, demonstrations erupted in Manzini, the commercial capital. Over 1,000 peaceful protesters, including many teachers, were subjected to water cannon and tear gas grenades.
The demonstration was timed to commemorate the 38th anniversary of the banning of all political parties by Mswati’s father, King Sobhuza II, and none have been allowed since. A number of opposition figures and students were arrested and mobile phones impounded by the police.
Since then things appear to have quietened down, but that is only on the surface as there has been virtually no response from the Government or King and certainly no indication of any inclination to change.
This will, of course, only add fuel to the fire, until finally this parasitic monarchy and government are swept away. A wiser monarch would invest in a free democratic system and remove himself from political control now. We won’t hold our breath!
I will leave the last word to Nelson Mandela: “Many of our traditional leaders are also not aware of the lessons of history. They do not seem to know that there were once absolute monarchs in the world who did not share power with their subjects ……… Had these monarchs clung stubbornly to their absolute powers they would long have disappeared from the scene.” Nelson Mandela “Conversations With Myself” (UK BOOKSTORE -“Conversations With Myself” – USA BOOKSTORE)
11/5/2011 NEWS UPDATE: Swaziland’s Finance Minister, Majozi Sithole, said on the radio today that Swaziland may not be able to pay its civil servants in June ………. I sense trouble ahead, especially as civil servants were in the vanguard of the demonstrations last month!
ROYAL WEDDING AFTERTHOUGHTS:
Like millions of others around the world I watched the Royal Wedding in London on TV recently and enjoyed it – a great spectacle which UK Plc does very well.
And while I wish the “royal couple” (now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) a long and happy relationship – they look like a very nice pair together – I do have to wonder just what this “royal” thing is all about?
What does it mean to be “royal”? What it means in fact is that some people get to be born into the right family, at the right time and, if they are lucky in their timing, into a long life of privilege, power, wealth and luxury. (I admit one or two have literally lost their heads along the way, so it isn’t always a good deal!)
Apart from that, “being royal” doesn’t mean anything. It is all a grand illusion that the majority of us buy into and go along with.
While I would concede that a constitutional monarchy where the Head of State is completely separate from the politics of the day is extremely useful, other than that these people are exactly the same as the rest of us when it comes down to it – just the same but with posher accents! Though I am sure the majority of them would like to think otherwise.
And talking of the Royal Wedding, why was it that playboy despots like King Mswati (above) and the Libyan Ambassador ( the invitation later rescinded after protests) were invited while two former UK Prime Ministers, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair and their partners were excluded?
This exclusion of two people who have held the highest political office in the country struck me as rude, banal, unfair and stupid and smacks of the “ruling elite” (in their delusions of self importance) punishing those who may have offended them along the way.
Similarly, Sarah Ferguson was denied an invitation and had to watch her daughters attend with her former husband, the Duke of York on TV. How petty it all is!
Until the next time,
Peter Clifford: www.petercliffordonline.com
TO HAVE YOUR SAY SCROLL DOWN & CLICK ON ” COMMENT” IN THE GREY PANEL
If you value what I have written please click on the “Share” button and Tweet my short link – http://bit.ly/petercliff – onto your friends.