Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze, the Swaziland Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, has embarked on a campaign of misinformation about the state of the kingdom’s economy and its human rights record.
In an article published on the websites of both Foreign Policy Journal and the Harvard International Review, the Chief says the time for greater prosperity in Swaziland is nigh. He says the kingdom represents an, ‘increasingly attractive opportunity for foreign direct investment’.
In the article which has also been distributed on the African News Desk and Ein News websites, the Chief says that internationally there is, ‘a misrepresentation of the present position, and the opportunities available, within Swaziland’.
He writes, ‘Any notion that we are internally divided in our ambitions could not be further from the truth and suggests that certain western institutions may be referring to outdated, or even misguided, fact-books. Misinformation will serve only to hinder, as opposed to encourage, free enterprise in our country.’
The Chief, who was not elected to his office in Swaziland, where political parties are banned from taking part in elections, adds, ‘It is therefore important to recognize that present-day Swaziland is undergoing a sensitive and challenging process of economic revival. And we are doing so while bringing about a new culture of governance and accountability.’
King Mswati III rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
The Chief’s comments that greater prosperity is nigh came just before Tex Ray, the largest of the Taiwanese textile operations in Swaziland, announced it was retrenching 1,450 of its 1,700 workforce because it has no orders. Other Taiwanese-based textile firms are expected to follow suit in the next few weeks.
The background to this campaign of misinformation is that the United States announced in June 2014 that from 1 January 2015 Swaziland would no longer be able to export goods into the US tariff-free under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA).
The decision was taken because after years of broken promises: the Swaziland Government had failed to implement the full passage of amendments to the Industrial Relations Act; full passage of amendments to the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA); full passage of amendments to the Public Order Act; full passage of amendments to sections 40 and 97 of the Industrial Relations Act relating to civil and criminal liability to union leaders during protest actions; and establishing a code of conduct for the police during public protests.
In a statement, a White House spokesperson said, ‘The decision to withdraw Swaziland’s AGOA eligibility comes after years of engaging with the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland on concerns about its implementation of the AGOA eligibility criteria related to worker rights.’
The statement said after an ‘extensive review’ the US, ‘concluded that Swaziland had not demonstrated progress on the protection of internationally recognized worker rights. In particular, Swaziland has failed to make continual progress in protecting freedom of association and the right to organize. Of particular concern is Swaziland’s use of security forces and arbitrary arrests to stifle peaceful demonstrations, and the lack of legal recognition for labor and employer federations.
In his article Chief Mgwagwa says, ‘… we do feel that it is time for certain western institutions to carry out a fresh analysis of reality on the ground in our country.’
The true reality on the ground in Swaziland has been and continues to be well documented. Respected organisations as diverse as afriMAP, Amnesty International, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), the US State Department, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Labour Start, and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Freedom House, have reported human rights violations across all sectors of society, including the banning of prayer meetings, arbitrary arrests and abductions of pro-democracy campaigners and the banning of trade union activities.
In July 2014 the US State Department and organisations across the world criticised the jailing for two years of magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer and writer Thulani Maseko after they wrote articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.
Foreign Policy Journal websiteCan you describe what your government will do to protect the freedom of association for the people of Swaziland? The United States has said it has engaged continuously with your government for years on this very topic, but you have not changed your stance.’
A different correspondent on the Harvard International Review website wrote, ‘The Chief and Minister is completely divorced from reality. Swaziland is not an “increasingly attractive place for foreign investment” In the last year it has lost thousands of jobs and income in textiles and minerals. No honest investor would touch the place without a very good reason. Officials want payments to get a business set up and the courts will not protect you if the Royal family want to interfere.
‘The US-Africa summit showed that Swaziland’s record on human and workers’ rights continued to be a disgrace and that as long as the government remained opposed to supporting them AGOA would not be re-instated. When the trade unionists returned from Washington the Prime Minister recommended that they be “strangled” for telling the truth about conditions in Swaziland and not buying into the government’s propaganda.
‘He talks about a culture of governance and accountability – this government is accountable to the King, not the people. It has openly ignored votes in parliament and is manipulating the courts. Elections are a joke where political parties remain banned.’
The correspondent concludes, ‘Gumedze’s job is to portray his nation in the most favourable light but this article goes beyond political spin into downright denial of reality. The more worrying question is does he believe it himself?’
The Foreign Policy Journal itself cautioned its readers on Gumedze, saying, ‘The views expressed are his own.’
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