King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland / Eswatini has chosen a businessman with no political experience as his new Prime Minister.
Ambrose Dlamini is best known as the chief executive officer (CEO) of MTN Swaziland, the mobile phone service provider. The King receives millions of dollars a year in dividends from MTN. He was given 10 percent of MTN Swaziland when he granted it the licence to operate as the only mobile phone service provider in his kingdom.
Swaziland is not a democracy; the King chooses the Prime Minister and government members. The King appointed six members of his own family to the House of Assembly and eight to the Senate earlier in October 2018. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections. No members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people.
The King announced his choice of PM on Saturday (27 October 2018). He had previously said he had been told whom to appoint by an angel that had appeared to him in a prayer.
King Mswati at one time was estimated by Forbes to have a personal net worth (assets minus liabilities) of US$200 million. Seven in ten of the people in Swaziland live on incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 per day.
In 2014, The Sunday Times newspaper in South Africa reported that MTN ‘brokered [a] cosy relationships with the monarchy’.
It reported that the King held 10 percent of the shares in MTN in Swaziland and was referred to by the company as an ‘esteemed shareholder’. It said MTN had paid R114 million (US$11.4 million) to the King over the five years up to 2014. The payments have continued since then but the total amount the King has received is not publicly known.
The Sunday Times reported in 2014 that MTN had a monopoly in Swaziland and was used by 57 percent of the population. It said MTN was able to keep prices high, citing the cost of 300 megabytes of data in Swaziland as E149, while in South Africa the same amount of data cost E79.
In 2009, Earl Irvine, then US Ambassador to Swaziland, wrote a confidential cable (later published by Wikileaks) in which he said the King operated in his own financial interest. Part of the cable said, ‘Royal politics and King Mswati’s business interests appear to have caused the ouster of Mobile Telephone Network (MTN) CEO Tebogo Mogapi and halted parastatal Swaziland Post and Telecommunications Corporation (SPTC) from selling the MTN shares it owns to raise money for a Next Generation Networks (NGN) cell phone project.
‘Industry and press observers privately indicated that the King, who already owns many MTN shares, had wanted to purchase the MTN shares himself at a cheaper price than the buyer, MTN, was offering SPTC.
He went on, ‘Government officials later prevented the sale, and recently did not renew the work permit for CEO Mogapi, a South African citizen, apparently in retaliation for his role in the transaction, as well as the CEO’s reported decision to oppose government efforts to use the MTN network for electronic surveillance on political dissidents.’
Ambrose Dlamani later became CEO of MTN.
The US Ambassador’s cable went on, ‘Government officials would likely prefer a more malleable Swazi CEO at MTN who would cooperate more fully with royal and government wishes.’
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