Newspapers in Swaziland deliberately suppressed criticism about a visit by the Equatorial Guinean president after being instructed to do so by a Swazi government minister.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Swaziland chapter, has publicly revealed for the first time the extent of the collusion between Swaziland’s newspapers and the government.
MISA, the foremost media freedom advocacy group in the region, reported on how the newspapers in Swaziland covered the visit to the kingdom by President Teodora Mbasago.
In its annual report on media freedom in Swaziland, published this month, MISA, said, ‘In January 2012, Minister of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT), Winnie Magagula held an impromptu meeting with all [print] editors , where she told them they must positively report the visit of Equatorial Guinean President, Teodora Obiang Nguema Mbasago.
‘The newspapers heeded her directive: all the media houses waxed lyrical about the expected socio-economic benefits to be reaped from a questionable oil deal.
‘The editors suppressed President Mbasago’s negative stories of graft and repression that were run by the international media. In fact, the Swazi Observer was forced to apologise for a cable news item published by SAPA (South African Press Association) that negatively exposed the President.’
There are only two newspaper groups in Swaziland that publish daily and weekly titles. The Swazi Observer group is in effect owned by King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. The Times of Swaziland is an independently owned group.
All broadcast media in the kingdom are state controlled, with the exception of one TV channel that supports the king, and a radio station that does not carry news or current affairs.
In its annual report MISA called the Swazi Observer, ‘a pure propaganda machine for the royal family’. It said the Times of Swaziland publisher, ‘had allowed commercial interests to take precedence over editorial independence’.
The visit of the Equatorial Guinean Presidential to Swaziland made headlines in the international media. Swazi Media Commentary (SMC) said at the time that the Times of Swaziland reported that King Mswati had done a deal with the President to import crude oil into his kingdom.
The Times reported Thembinkosi Mamba, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy, saying the Swazi Government had plans to build its own refinery so that, in future, the crude oil would be brought directly to Swaziland for refinement and separation, thereby, cutting down on costs.
SMC reported, ‘Although the Times doesn’t say this, it looks like this deal is something special the King has dreamt up. In the past, as with the notorious US$5 billion power plant deal that turned out to be a con-trick, the King has bypassed his parliament and made deals on his own initiative.
‘Clearly, Swaziland has no need to import the crude oil and doesn’t have the capacity – nor can it develop the capacity in the foreseeable future – to process the oil once it receives it. Mamba’s claim that Swaziland will be able to build its own refinery is a fantasy.
‘The deal is pointless - why doesn’t Equatorial Guinea just send the crude oil to South Africa for refinement, bypassing Swaziland altogether?
‘The deal is also too costly. Mamba told the Times, ‘There are costs involved in the acquisition of the oil, like the cost of transporting it to South Africa where it will be refined, and the charges that we will have to pay for refining it in that country.’
‘Looks like King Mswati is about to enter a bad deal that will cost his subjects a great deal of money, rather than save them some.
‘So what’s going on? Obiang’s regime has been labelled one of the world’s most corrupt by international rights groups.
‘Transparency International has ranked Equatorial Guinea 168th out of 178 countries for its efforts in tackling corruption.
‘Only last month (December 2011), the UK International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell told his parliament that oil wealth was being stolen from Equatorial Guinea ‘for the corrupt and personal use of an unaccountable and self-serving elite’.
‘The US Justice Department said in October 2011it was looking to seize assets worth more than US$70 million from Obiang’s son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, including a US$30 million home in Malibu.
‘In September 2011 the president’s son visited Swaziland. While he stayed at the five-star Royal Villas Resort (where the president has been staying this week) he had his bag stolen – containing US$2.5 million in bank notes. We still don’t know why he came to Swaziland with so much cash in his case, but it is hard to believe it was for legitimate reasons.
‘Now, three months later his father is in town and a needless oil deal is signed with the King.’
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