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Thursday, 24 February 2011


The Swaziland Government is spending more than E1 billion this year on the army and police force to try to avoid an uprising of the Swazi population.

Majozi Sithole admitted as much yesterday (23 February 2011) at an ‘open stakeholder dialogue on the 2011-2012 budget and Fiscal Adjustment Roadmap’.

‘Yes, we are spending a lot on the army but we are not anticipating what is happening in North Africa to come here,’ he said.

‘However, the army is there to avoid such situations,’ the minister warned.

Sithole was responding to a question about why so much money was being spent on the army and police – the total budget for Swaziland in the coming year is only E10.7 billion. The budget for the army and police is the equivalent of about half the national budget deficit (E2.243 billion for the 2011/12 fiscal year).

Or put another way, if this vast money wasn’t spent, Swaziland wouldn’t be in the economic mess that it is.

It is difficult to see why the Swaziland Government wants to spend E1 billion on the army and police, unless it is to be able to use the forces against the civilian population. Swaziland is not at war and it has no serious foreign affairs commitments that require it to have a large army.

A clue to the thinking of the Swaziland Government, appointed by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, came yesterday via a Wikileaks United States diplomatic cable.

The cable, written in 2009 by Maurice Parker, the then US Ambassador to Swaziland, revealed that the UK Government had blocked an arms deal between a UK company and the Swaziland Government because it feared their ‘possible use for internal repression’.

The Swazi Government wanted to buy equipment worth US$60 million (E426 million).

Among items listed for purchase were, ‘3 Bell Model UH-1H helicopters, FN Herstal 7.6251mm Minimi light machine guns, blank and tracer ammunition, armored personnel carriers, command and control vehicles including one fitted with a 12.7x99mm M2 Browning heavy machine gun and others fitted with the FN Herstal light machine guns, military ambulances, armored repair and recovery vehicles, weapon sights, military image intensifier equipment, optical target surveillance equipment, 620 Heckler & Koch G36E assault rifles, 240 Heckler & Koch G36K assault rifles, 65 Heckler & Koch G36E rifles, 75 Heckler & Koch UMP submachine guns 9x19mm, and 35 Heckler & Koch USP semi-automatic pistols’.

The Swaziland Government said it wanted the items to fulfil its United Nations ‘peacekeeping’ obligations in Africa.

The UK Government didn’t believe a word of it and thought either the weapons would be used against the Swazi civilian population, or they were being bought in order to sell on to another country. The UK Government blocked the deal.

In his diplomatic cable, Parker said, ‘The array of weapons requested would not be needed for the first phases of peacekeeping, although it is possible someone tried to convince the Swazi government they were required. The GKOS [Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland] may have been attempting to build up domestic capability to deal with unrest, or was possibly acting as an intermediary for a third party such as Zimbabwe or a Middle Eastern country that had cash, diamonds or goods to trade.’

As the Guardian newspaper reminded its readers, Swaziland has a poor human rights record which was criticised by the US state department in its 2009 report (the year the deal was to have taken place).

‘Government agents continued to commit or condone serious abuses, and the human rights situation in the country deteriorated. Human rights problems included inability of citizens to change their government; extrajudicial killings by security forces; mob killings; police use of torture, beatings, and excessive force on detainees,’ the report said.

In the months before the attempted arms sale, Swaziland's government declared the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) the main opposition political party a terrorist organisation, and arrested its leader, Mario Masuku.

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