King Mswati III of Swaziland must be a very worried man.
The king has asked his armed forces not to launch a coup against him.
His plea came after Madagascar armed forces overthrew President Marc Ravalomanana, after they accused him of spending public money recklessly and being undemocratic.
The parallels between Madagascar and Swaziland are close. King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, is undemocratic and spends money unwisely.
He appoints the Prime Minister, the cabinet and makes all important decisions in Swaziland. Political parties are banned and dissent is quashed.
Despite the fact that a new constitution came into force in 2005, King Mswati and his government regularly ignore its provisions.
King Mswati and his family were awarded E130 million (about 10 million US dollars) in public money in the national budget last month (February 2009), despite the fact that he has a wealth estimated at 200 million US dollars, while 70 percent of his subjects live in abject poverty, earning less than one US dollar a day.
King Mswati is world renowned for his lavish lifestyle; his taste for expensive cars and the opulence of his palaces.
The king has had difficulty in recent months in keeping his subjects in order. A Suppression of Terrorism Act unleashed last year led to four political entities being branded as ‘terrorist’ organisations. Members and supporters face up to 25 years in jail. Mario Masuku, a leading pro-democracy activist has been in jail since last November awaiting trial on terrorism charges.
Despite the best efforts of King Mswati’s security forces, the fight for democracy in Swaziland is continuing.
Now the king has told his soldiers it is their duty to protect Swaziland and not ‘to work with hot heads hell-bent on destabilising peace’.
He added, ‘I would like to caution soldiers not to contribute to instability.’
During a defence force passing out ceremony yesterday (20 March 2009), King Mswati made a reference to the situation in Madagascar, where soldiers refused to obey orders and turned against the president.
According to a report in Swaziland’s Weekend Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, the king is reported saying, ‘I warn you soldiers not to emulate such conduct. The said soldiers I’m talking about were given orders to defend the country but instead of following such orders, they invaded bushes.’
The king expressed hope that the recruits joined the army not just for employment but because of their wish to protect and defend the country.
King Mswati may be whistling in the dark here. Soldiers in Swaziland are no better treated than any other of the king’s subjects and it is not obvious to an outsider why they should feel any allegiance to him. The king and his ruling elite rely on traditional Swazi culture to see them through. Put simply, this means that ordinary people are expected to adore the king and to never question whether he is right or wrong. The king and his elite bestow special privileges to those who help him to maintain his grip on power and as long as it is in their interests to continue giving that support, they will.
But should the wind change, as it has in Madagascar, that support could swiftly evaporate and King Mswati will only have his armed forces to save him ..... or not.