Swaziland’s gross national per capita income is USD 3,362. Nevertheless most Swazi people must go about their lives in desperate circumstances. Food security is a constant concern, and Swaziland has scored some of the worst rankings on world statistical tables in terms of HIV infection rates, average life expectancy, numbers of orphaned children, children whose growth is stunted and other indicators of the effects of grossly uneven income distribution. These problems each have multiple causes, but the king’s overwhelming and unchecked corruption of government power underlies every one of them.
The economy of Swaziland is stagnant and structured to protect the king’s personal business interests. Also, Swaziland’s productivity has been compromised by the loss of a sizeable part of the workforce to disease and early death. Two years ago, King Mswati’s government experienced a serious liquidity crisis, and the chance of an actual financial collapse in the short to medium term is still significant. King Mswati’s ideas about how to fix the problems are naïve. In many cases they constitute fronts for corrupt schemes to increase his own personal wealth.
Swazi tourism authorities have succeeded in selling Swaziland as a fairy tale tourist destination with an exotic culture where thousands of bare breasted girls gleefully dance for the king. However, knowledge among foreigners of Swazi people’s problems is growing, and pressures on the king have mounted over the past 3 years. His concern about negative reporting on Swaziland in international media is probably the reason for his reported obsession with news channels. High powered people and organizations, some capable of offering substantial assistance to Swaziland, have tried to convince the king that his unwillingness to recognize and act on the need for reform is untenable. Still, as is evidenced in his recent announcement of a vision from God, Mswati apparently believes he can continue to game both his critics and his supporters.
Throughout 27 years on the throne, Mswati’s personal development has made him more rigid and more criminal. As he demonstrated during the financial crisis in 2011 – 12, he confuses brinksmanship for governance. His response to crisis has been to recruit more security forces and buy more weapons. Some members of the extended royal family are said to be embarrassed by Swaziland’s status as a pariah in the eyes of the world, but they apparently are too satiated in their berths on the gravy train to do anything but complain in private. One of them has commented, almost nonchalantly, ‘They’re sitting on a bomb, but they’re too stupid to know it.’ Another has said: ‘We feel Mswati will be the last king.’
In 2011, Swaziland’s failure to uphold its responsibilities under the IMF’s Staff Monitored Program showed that democratic change is anathema to Mswati. For him, his family and his cronies, the purpose of the government of Swaziland is to ensure their security and their hold on all necessary means to sustain their enjoyment of wealth and luxury. Perhaps due to a lack of education and sophistication, or perhaps because of Mswati’s deep conviction that occult powers of curses, charms and potions are protecting him, there is no indication yet that he might recognize the seeds of his own self-destruction in his mismanagement of government and in his greed and selfishness.
This does not mean that there is no hope for change in Swaziland. Just across Swaziland’s borders, South Africans and Mozambicans not so long ago faced brutal dictatorships and managed to bring democratic change to their countries. Civil society can plant and nurture seeds to grow a more open, equal and prosperous society. But Swazi civil society is beset with challenges from within. As it has struggled under the yoke of an oppressive regime, it has also found itself fighting within its own ranks. If in the future Swazi civil society is to have a decisive role in liberating Swazi people from oppression and poverty, civil society activists of different persuasions must learn the discipline necessary to:
- stop imputing false motives against each other,
- agree on an agenda for change and
take the initiative for leading Swazis toward achievement of democratic goals.
For Swazi civil society
- Swazi civil society should set the agenda for democratic change in Swaziland. Swazi democrats must prepare for a long, hard struggle by building support for their mission among international organizations, foreign governments and organizations, media, businesses, professional and advocacy organizations and people of global note. Given the expected repeat of a government financial crisis, civil society should prepare to gain the full range of political and public relations advantages which the next financial crisis will offer.
- Civil society organizations with different political, religious or philosophical groundings should adopt an attitude of respectfully disagreeing while being able to form tactical alliances when these can help them move forward toward democratic goals.
- Civil society should begin now to lead the Swazi people in defining the reforms they want and the process that they favor in order to achieve them. Civil society should also make the message of democracy and human rights relevant to all Swazis by substantially expanding efforts to connect with Swazis in all regions and economic groups.
- Swazi civil society should get ready for pro-active engagement with the king. Engagement might not happen soon, but when it does, civil society must be ready to seize the initiative. Civil society should resist any attempt to impose a change process from above either by the king or SADC and the AU. If Swaziland becomes the subject of an imposed reform process, civil society should demand parity of representation with the Swazi government, should only join after receiving a mandate from the Swazi people and should enter the process with well elaborated proposals for genuine reforms.
- Of critical importance, Swazi civil society should insist on neutralization of all government security forces prior to agreeing to enter into negotiations.
- The sizeable investments in Swaziland of Coca Cola, Cadbury Chocolates and the Rhodes Food Group benefit from royal protection and provide the king with income. Civil society should examine these companies with a view toward either recruiting the companies as supporters for democracy and human rights or exploiting the companies’ royal connections for advocacy purposes and for channeling pressure for reform through the companies to the king.
- International attention focused on Swaziland around the September 2013 elections offers civil society opportunities to address multiple audiences. Given the non-compliance of Swazi elections with Commonwealth standards, civil society should request a Commonwealth review of Swaziland’s eligibility for continued membership. Civil society should work through African networks to preclude SADC and the AU from endorsing Swaziland’s sham elections. And civil society should deluge the international media with election related data and images.
- King Mswati habitually watches CNN, Sky News, BBC and Al Jazeera. Civil society should continuously provide information about Swaziland to these organizations to make sure the king sees that people everywhere know the problems his rule has caused for the Swazi people.
For the king
- King Mswati should begin to create relationships of trust with the Swazi people by revoking oppressive laws, stopping the looting of public coffers, releasing political prisoners, allowing political exiles to safely return, respecting Swazis’ human rights and allowing pro-democracy groups, political parties and trade unions – including TUCOSWA - to organize and communicate freely with all Swazis.
- The king should set his own financial interests aside in promoting the development and expansion of the Swazi economy in order to build a foundation for the well-being of Swazis.
- The king should ensure that Swazi working people and businesses will continue to benefit after 2014 under the African Growth and Opportunity Act by instituting requisite human rights and governance reforms.
- The king should agree without pre-conditions to participate as an equal party with the Swazi people in negotiations to bring about accountable governance, the rule of law, respect for people’s rights and allocation of national resources in the interest of the entire nation.
For SADC and the international community
- Foreign governments, most notably the governments of Swaziland’s closest neighbors, and regional and international organizations should provide all possible support for the implementation of the foregoing recommendations.