Tuesday, August 25, 2009


It is an unfortunate coincidence of timing that the Weekend Observer newspaper in Swaziland published an article this past weekend called How the world sees our Kingdom.

As befitting the Weekend Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, it concentrated on all the good things that journalists are, it claims, saying about Swaziland.

The article appeared on the very day that news houses all over the world, but not in Swaziland, reported on how five of King Mswati’s wives (he is said to have 13 but nobody knows for sure since this is information that his Swazi subjects are not allowed to have) are on a worldwide shopping spree costing at least six million US dollars.

The Weekend Observer interviewed Bongani Dlamini, Marketing Manager of the Swaziland Tourism Authority, who talked about how his organisation brings travel writers from all over the world to visit the kingdom. He said the journalists are brought to Swaziland ‘to experience, against the numerous negative hearsays, what the country has to offer’.

He said once in Swaziland, ‘the journalists are allowed to use their journalistic judgements on the nature of stories to publish, in line with the editorial policies of the media houses they work for. The journalists would most likely take news angles that would be of interest to their target readership, and are not influenced by the interests of their hosts.’

Journalists writing what they want to about Swaziland? Not a luxury that the state affords to its own journalists working in the kingdom. If a Swazi media house tells the truth about the king’s wives, it will be closed down by the king.

In its article the Weekend Observer reproduced some of the good things it said that international newspapers have published after their freebie travel trips to Swaziland.

But, again, no surprise here, the Weekend Observer is far from honest. Here’s one example: it quotes the Independent from London, UK, ‘Swaziland may be tiny and landlocked, but - like the Tardis - everything looks bigger from the inside’.

As ‘praise’ goes that’s not very high: indeed Swaziland is a tiny kingdom, but Swaziland has no control over that. What the Weekend Observer failed to tell its readers was what else the Independent had to say about Swaziland.

As I revealed in February 2009,the Independent’s travel writer Mike Unwin went on to say this,

‘Certainly the current monarchy could do with its defenders. While democracy has taken root across the rest of southern Africa, political parties remain outlawed in Swaziland. Indeed, a new constitution approved in 2005 enshrined the king’s powers to appoint the prime minister, the cabinet and judiciary. It is claimed that seven out of 10 people live below the poverty line.

‘Meanwhile Mswati has not been the agent of social change that some had hoped for, continuing to snap up wives from among his subjects (13 and counting), and displaying an appetite for cars and palaces that suggests he does not share his late father's ascetic tendencies.

‘Small wonder then that the extravagant 40/40 celebrations held last September to celebrate the nation's simultaneous 40th anniversary of independence and the king's 40th birthday did not go down well in more progressive quarters.

‘Rumblings about the royal wives’ shopping trip to Dubai and a new fleet of Mercedes cars bought for the occasion culminated in protest marches through the capital. Some saw the spectacular pageantry, in which thousands of royal subjects donned ceremonial leopard skins and turaco feathers to hail their monarch, as mere orchestrated jubilation: the manipulation of culture for political gain.’

Now, that’s really how the world sees our kingdom.

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