John Kunene, the top civil servant at the Swaziland Ministry of Defence, has been fired because of the food crisis that has hit the Swazi Army.
Barnabas Dlamini, the illegally-appointed Prime Minister of Swaziland, called a press conference at 10.20pm last night (18 March 2011) to announce a reshuffle of principle secretaries. The PSs were made to play a game of musical chairs and when the music stopped Kunene was the only one left standing without a chair. He will be replaced by Andreas Mathabela, from the Tikhundla Administration and Development.
The Canadian Press news agency reports today that Kunene was sacked because of the food crisis that has hit the Umbutfu Swaziland Defence Force (aka the army).
Food is in such short supply that soldiers are reportedly going from homestead to homestead in Swaziland begging for food. Shortages have occurred because the army has changed the way it procures food and supplies.
It is not clear whether at the heart of the problem is the government’s inability to pay its bills because of the present economic meltdown or the corruption that riddles the army.
Earlier in the day King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, said the army’s ‘top brass’ would be ‘taken to task’ for the shortage. The king made the comment at an army passing-out ceremony.
According to a report in the Swazi News, an independent newspaper in the kingdom, he was ‘livid’ that he had not been told about the shortage. He had heard about it from the media, he said.
‘This shall be corrected immediately,’ he reportedly said to loud cheers from the soldiers.
And, by the end of the day Kunene was out on his ear.
It is not clear whether the king’s main concern was that he hadn’t been told, or that his soldiers were having to beg for food from ordinary Swazi people – six in ten live in abject poverty and three in ten are officially classed as under nourished.
The sacking also came on the day that thousands of people marched on the office of the prime minister to demand that the government resign.
Yesterday’s protest was the first of a number planned over the coming weeks and months. An ‘uprising’ coordinated through a Facebook site is planned for 12 April.
The king and the government he handpicked have been showing signs in recent weeks that they are worried that Swazi people have been encouraged by the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa and are prepared to fight for their own democratic rights.
Obviously, if an uprising starts in Swaziland, King Mswati will want the army on his side. If he has allowed them to go hungry, they will think twice about whether he is worth supporting.