Stephen Brown, Director of NGO Positive Women
8 September 2011
King Mswati III is royally screwing Swaziland
In August  the South African government bailed out the small Kingdom of Swaziland to the alarming tune of R2.4b after the landlocked country lost a third of its revenue from a regional customs union. Most South Africans were bemused at propping up the undemocratic kingdom ruled by a man with more interest in what his wife is wearing than the schooling of thousands of orphans.
The plugging of Swaziland's budget deficit was already seen as somewhat peculiar given that according to Forbes magazine, the absolute ruler's estimated personal fortune is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
And this was all before the most distasteful part of the story even emerged, because King Mswati III is audaciously demanding commission on a loan he supposedly negotiated with the Government of South Africa, despite being the one accused of fiscal mismanagement.
Yes, Mswati argues that because he spearheaded the deal he should receive around R200m in commission. You can't help but wonder if he's been watching too much Blackadder or has been inspired by the dealings of one Derek 'Del Boy' Trotter.
Mswatti is the Cowboy King of Swaziland. While he lounges around his many palaces pleasuring the 14 young wives he's married, his country has collapsed. Let me break it down for you; Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence in the world with over a quarter of people aged between 15 and 49 living with the disease.
The impact of Swaziland's HIV/AIDS epidemic has been so severe that life expectancy is the lowest in the world2. The catastrophic effect of HIV and AIDS on Swaziland's mortality rates has created a society in which approximately 15%3 of the total population are orphans and vulnerable children, many of whom live in child-headed households. In short, Swaziland is a weak, starving nation with a greedy, gluttonous leader.
It's the type of situation that begs the question -why isn't Swaziland getting more international monetary support? But there lies the greatest of ironies. Whilst the Del Boy King of Swaziland bemoans his lack of commission on an emergency loan from South Africa, the reason Swaziland can't get more international support is because he's too wealthy. Yes, his wealth is so high that Swaziland is classified by the World Bank as a "middle-income country" meaning that the government can't work with other international institutions (insert optional 'FFS' here).
Mswati is literally royally screwing his country. He is presiding over a government of his choosing and under his influence spending international and government funding where he likes. The situation has become so ludicrous that even the usually sympathetic Global Fund is withholding money from the country, plunging thousands of organisations, like mine and the people we work with, into chaos and closure. These are the very people fighting to stop the loss of an entire generation to AIDS.
This is a Commonwealth country - an undemocratic member of the Commonwealth that bans all political parties, so you'd think our government would have something to say on it (assuming they could find it on the map). But a simple Google search shows you that we haven't heard a peep from either the Development Minister or the Foreign Affairs Minister about Swaziland since they came to office, which is odd given that countries such as Fiji have been threatened with expulsion from the Commonwealth for not holding free and fair elections.
But the people of Swaziland who for so long have remained silent, are beginning to stamp their feet. Just last May, whilst Mswati was toasting the future King William and his new bride at Buckingham Palace, thousands of ordinary Swazis took to the streets, despite the fiercest of police brutality, to argue for democracy.
And this week they're at it again, workers, trade unionists, ministers, civil society, teachers - all coming together to argue for a constitutional monarchy and democratic powers. And this is absolutely crucial because the people of Swaziland recognise that money isn't going to solve their problems on its own, it is politics. And they think the removal of the Cowboy King would be a good start.
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