Swazis are being urged to jump at shadows following an absurd claim in a newspaper owned by King Mswati III that al Qaeda terrorists may be in Swaziland disguised as secondhand car salesmen.
The Swazi Observer reports today (3 February 2009) that ‘sleeper cells’ may already be in place ‘and ready to act’.
The Observer report relies heavily (a polite way of saying is copied almost word for word) from a story published in the Botswana Sunday Standard this weekend (1 February 2009). The Standard claimed that al Qaeda terrorists were infiltrating Botswana and 10 nations across the world, ‘Brazil, Namibia, South Africa, Malaysia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Lesotho, Mauritius, Swaziland, and Trinidad and Tobago’.
According to the Observer, Swazi Police Public Relations Officer (PRO) Superintended Vusi Masuku said they would follow-up the allegations. ‘We will apply all forms of investigations available to prove and disprove the reports,’ he said.
Of course, the Observer nor the Standard really explain why a supposed international terrorist ring would want to be in Swaziland, although the Standard does allude to the fact that Botswana and Swaziland are close to South Africa which might be a target for terrorist action during the FIFA World Cup next year.
It’s not much of an explanation, since most of the countries in the list given by the newspapers are nowhere near South Africa.
Although we might be tempted to laugh off the newspapers’ claims, there is something more sinister going on here. Since October 2008 with the illegal appointment of Barnabas Dlamini as Prime Minister, there has been a clampdown on free speech in Swaziland (there was never much to begin with) and a Suppression of Terrorism Act has been implemented to ban organisations critical of the government and the non-democratic structures in Swaziland.
The actions of the Swazi Government have caused outrage both inside Swaziland and in the international community for being heavy handed and anti-democratic. In response the government has said it needs to do these things in order to save Swazis from terrorism.
Up to now we have been told that the so-called ‘terrorist threat’ comes from within Swaziland. People close to the ground have laughed openly at the absurdity of the suggestion, so now it is extremely convenient that the Swazi Government can claim that an international threat exists and who better to blame than al Qaeda (a supposed international network of terrorists?)
The message that the people of Swaziland will be asked to swallow is that they must allow the government a free hand to tackle this new terrorist threat and if that means rounding up dissidents, then so be it.
The Swazi people are not alone in being duped about the dangers of al Qaeda. A convenient mythology about the group has grown since the World Trade Center bombings in 2001 as a fear of a phantom enemy has been allowed to grow by politicians desperate to maintain their power.
A documentary on al Qaeda shown by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 2004 concluded that al Qaeda ‘is not an organised international network. It does not have members or a leader. It does not have “sleeper cells”. It does not have an overall strategy. In fact, it barely exists at all, except as an idea about cleansing a corrupt world through religious violence.’
If the Swazi Observer really is a ‘newspaper’ and not a propaganda sheet for the king and the anti-democratic forces in Swaziland it needs to retract its story pronto.