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Saturday, 28 March 2009

SWAZILAND TO REVIEW CONSTITUTION

Swaziland’s illegally-appointed prime minister, Barnabas Dlamini says his government is to ‘review’ the Swazi Constitution.


He told the Swazi House of Assembly the constitution which came into effect in 2005 was ‘a newly-crafted document defining the principles by which the state will operate’.


He said the review would take place sometime over the next four years.


Unfortunately, he didn’t say why the review was needed or what process would be used.


There is reason to be pessimistic since Dlamini’s government has little respect for the constitution. Dlamini was himself unconstitutionally appointed prime minister by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Most of the government was also appointed illegally.


Earlier this month, the Swazi High Court ruled that the government was in breach of the constitution by not providing free primary schooling for all children in Swaziland.


I suspect the general principle of a review of the constitution will be welcomed by democrats. In November 2008, following the elections, the Commonwealth Expert Team called for a review

because the elections were not credible since political parties were banned in Swaziland.


It said that the review ‘should be carried out through a process of full consultation with Swazi political organisations and civil society (possibly with the support of constitutional experts).’


There was also very little credibility in the way in which the constitution was originally drawn up. King Mswati invited the International Bar Association (IBA) to review the first draft of the constitution and the IBA’s verdict was damning.


The report called the constitution ‘flawed’ and went so far as to cite one critic who called the constitution ‘a fraud.’


One of the IBA’s main conclusions was that the ‘position and powers’ of some ‘stakeholders’ in Swaziland, ‘including the Monarchy’ are in effect ‘actually placed above the Constitution and its principles’.


The IBA said that the judiciary and NGOs were not allowed to contribute to the drafting process and individual Swazi people were interviewed in the presence of their chiefs. As a result the ‘overwhelming’ majority wanted the King to keep all his powers and wanted the position of traditional advisers to the King to be strengthened. They also wanted Swazi customs to have supremacy over any international rights obligations.


Considering how the ‘consultation’ of the Swazi people was conducted it is no surprise they reached this conclusion.


Now we must wait to see how Barnabas Dlamini proposes to conduct the constitutional review. If he is serious that the kingdom needs a legitimate constitution he must allow everyone who wants to take part in a truly open and transparent process. Then we’ll really see how many Swazis want the present set up.

Friday, 27 March 2009

NO HINT OF DEMOCRACY IN SWAZILAND

Anyone who thinks that Swaziland’s government is democratically elected hasn’t been paying attention.


I have written a lot about the fact that King Mswati III illegally appointed Barnabas Dlamini as prime minister in October 2008. A prime minister, according to the Swaziland Constitution, must be a member of the House of Assembly: Dlamini was not when he was given the post as head of government.


King Mswati is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and he keeps a tight grip on his kingdom. Political parties are banned and although there are elections to parliament every five years these have been discredited by most international observers.


King Mswati appoints some MPs and senators and controls the government. Since the last elections held in 2008, King Mswati has ensured that every cabinet minister except one was his own appointment. That means that almost the whole government was unelected. This also includes the office of deputy prime minister.


Anyone who observes how the ruling elite keep a grip on power in Swaziland will not be surprised by this. In a population of one million people, seventy percent live in abject poverty earning less than one US dollar a day. About six in ten people needed food donated from the international community to fend off hunger in the past year.


With Swaziland in such a depressed state, the king is able to control his subjects through patronage. If you add to the list of ministers the other people who owe their jobs (think senior civil service) or their status (chiefs, for instance) to the king you can see how important his patronage is.


Despite the new Swaziland Constitution which came into effect in 2005, very little has changed in the kingdom. Parts of the constitution are simply ignored by the King and his government if it suits them.


The constitution states that at least 30 percent of members of parliament should be women, but this figure was not reached in the last election and there is no strategy in place to see that this happens anytime soon.


Earlier this month (March 2009), the Swazi High Court ruled that in line with the constitution, the Government must introduce free primary schooling for every Swazi child. The government had wanted to ignore this provision.


In 2008 a Suppression of Terrorism Act was introduced and it has consistently been used in an attempt to silence pro-democracy advocates. Journalists have been warned that if they write articles critical of the ruling elite they will be branded terrorists and face up to 25 years in prison and activists have been harassed and jailed by police.


Mario Masuku, president of the banned People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) has been in jail awaiting trial on terrorist charges since November 2008.


Barnabas Dlamini said yesterday (26 March 2009) that there will be a ‘review’of the constitution. The first thing this review should do is sack the prime minister and his government and run free elections.

DEFIANCE FROM SWAZILAND JAIL CELL

Mario Masuku, the Swazi pro-democracy activist imprisoned by the state, has sent a message from his jail cell to his supporters.


Masuku, President of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) was arrested in November 2008 under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. He has been in jail since then awaiting trial.


Prison authorities restricted the number of visitors Masuku could see until the Swaziland High Court ruled against them.


The authorities ignored the ruling and continued to restrict his visits, while rumours spread that he was in bad health (he suffers from diabetes).


Now PUDEMO, a political party banned in Swaziland and branded a ‘terrorist’ organisation by Barnabas Dlamini, the kingdom’s illegally-appointed prime minister, has issued a message from Masuku.


Masuku says he is ‘doing fine’. PUDEMO says you that he remains ‘resolute and committed to the fight for a democratic Swaziland. The fighting spirit remains unbroken despite the harsh conditions and hostility paralleled with his medical condition.’


PUDEMO says Masuku ‘takes great pleasure and comfort to the great work and contribution that PUDEMO is doing at the moment. He fully recognizes the contribution of solidarity by our friends on the international front. The President takes pride and draws confidence from the consistent work that is done on a daily basis.’

SWAZI CHILDREN’S MESSAGE TO G20

Swazi schoolchildren have been talking about what they want the world’s most powerful countries to do to at next week’s G20 summit.


The meeting brings together finance ministers and central bank governors of major industrialized and developing economies to discuss key issues in the global economy, in particular the present recession that is sweeping across the world.


The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in its World Today programme has been interviewing schoolchildren to find out what is important to them.


The BBC met children from the Waterford Kamhlaba United World College, Mbabane, and found (not surprisingly) they were worried about their futures and what chances they had of getting jobs when they became adults.


The abject poverty suffered by most people in Swaziland was high on their agenda (seventy percent of Swazis earn less than one US dollar a day). One youngster wanted the G20 participants to visit a township to see for themselves what real life was like. Another wanted them to visit Swazi schools which are so poor children have to have lessons sitting on the floor because there is not enough furniture.


Another wanted them to visit families ravaged by the AIDS pandemic (Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world) to see how children have to become head of their families when parents and grandparents die.


If you missed the programme, click below to hear the Swazi children’s contribution. It lasts a little over three minutes.

video