The Nation, Kenya
10 July 2011
Mswati must learn new lessons
By CHEGE MBITIRU
Swaziland’s King Mswati III doesn’t seem to realise happy subjects can still make a thriving kingdom. Of what use is he then?
This can only be said a good distance from Swaziland. While Mswati isn’t Ivan the Terrible yet, he doesn’t entertain dilution of his authority.
He’s an absolute monarch. However, his kingdom of 1.2 million subjects is wobbling. Media reports say Swaziland is seeking a $1.2 billion balance of payment bailout from South Africa.
Late last month central bank Governor Martin Dlamini said the kingdom’s foreign reserves would cover only 2.3 months of imports. Speculations floated civil servants’ salaries faced a slash.
When countries mess their finances, the International Monetary Fund visits. It did. From its gourd of bitter herbs, Mswati swallowed a few. His share of the national loaf remained unaffected.
So, the herbs he swallowed included a 14 per cent cut in departmental budgets, a 10 per cent slice of civil servants’ salaries, and increased taxes. Mswati doesn’t pay taxes. Incidentally, Queen Elizabeth does.
Mswati wouldn’t touch herbs calling for “policies and mechanisms to maintain fiscal and public discipline.” That’s alien to the Ngweyama, “the lion,” its taunted British education aside. Now he has no choice.
At 18, Mswati ascended to the throne—or rather a kingdom was entrusted to a schoolboy’s care—in 1986. He maintained his father’s, King Sobhuza II, traditions from a bygone era.
Monarchs peddle privileges as real work. Mswati’s “working” includes collecting expensive cars, building million-dollar palaces, issuing decrees, grabbing reportedly the kingdom’s $446 million for royalty and retinue spending last year.
The apex of royal job performance is an annual ogling at bare-breasted virgins and occasional choice of a wife, now numbering 14, some wayward to quench matrimonial thirst. Somehow, the king has acquired assets reportedly worth $100 million.
No wonder the Catholic Bishops of Southern Africa have proposed conditions for the bailout: not a penny for the royalty, an adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human rights, an end to a 1973 state of emergency, dialogue towards true democracy, and a new and peoples’ constitution, inclusive of the full range of human rights.
The clergy’s lists of Swaziland’s woes read as follows: world’s highest HIV/Aids infection at 26 per cent, lowest life expectancy, 32 years, a 70 per cent unemployment rate and rising, and 37 years curtailment of the freedom of expression, courtesy of the monarch.
Twice, in May and June demonstrators hit the streets. They reminded the king they weren’t all that happy. He replied by sending emissaries to empower the unhappy subjects with tear gas.
As the clerics noted, the Swazi people love their king. They can also love a queen. A potential candidate exists.
The Courier Pigeon newspaper in Australia last week reported that a Swazi student pursuing a Master’s in digital communications hits the books hard and saunters, co-ed style, at Sydney University.
She makes her bed and fries her eggs. Reportedly she doesn’t care much about some traditional Swazi antics. She’s Mswati’s oldest daughter [Princess Sikhanyiso]
The Swazis might as well consider trading a pseudo-modernist for a Queen with real modernity in the head.