Sunday, July 25, 2010


King Mswati III of Swaziland is misleading his subjects when he says his kingdom is on the way to becoming a First World nation.

He has been plugging away at this theme for many months now and his hangers-on in Swaziland, where he is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, have jumped on the bandwagon. The king even said that Swaziland would achieve First World status by 2022.

But none of them seem to understand what a ‘First World’ nation is. Put simply, the First World nations are the multi-party democracies who align themselves (some more formally than others) to the economic and foreign policies of the United States. They would include Canada, northern and western Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Swaziland does not have the potential to become a First World country. It is not a democracy and if King Mswati has his way will never become one. Only this week he restated that there will be no dialogue in Swaziland with groups advocating for democratic change.

Swaziland’s foreign policy makes it ineligible to ‘join’ the First World. By aligning itself with Taiwan (and therefore against China) it places itself outside of the political mainstream.

I assume that when King Mswati says he wants Swaziland to become ‘First World’, he means he wants his kingdom to be prosperous. But there’s not much chance of that. Last week the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the king, reported unemployment in Swaziland averaged 40 percent and in the Shiselweni region it was more than half.

We already know that the economy of Swaziland is in freefall and since the kingdom’s income from the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) was slashed this year from E6 billion (250 million US dollars) to E1.5 billion, budget cuts of 14 percent have been imposed by the Swazi government.

And this is not a one-off. No matter how much the king bleats, the income from SACU will never again reach the heights of the past.

The king has no answer to the financial crisis, except to distract attention from the true dire situation in Swaziland and mislead people about the prospects of achieving First World status.

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