Sunday, January 23, 2011


How good is the health of Mswati III, Swaziland’s king and sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch?

Probably not as good as it should be.

Last week, the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) reported that King Mswati was suffering from a series of mental health problems. It said, ‘sources feel that the king is no longer in control of his mental faculties and has lately become irrational and unpredictable’.

I don’t know how true this is (and I suspect it would be difficult to get concrete evidence to support the claim). But, while we can’t be sure about his mental health, there is ample evidence that the King’s physical health is in jeopardy.

Not to mince words: the king is obese. ‘Obese’ is a medical term for very fat.

Anyone who has seen pictures recently of King Mswati with his shirt off will see that he is sporting a rather large belly. Obesity experts like to say that such a person is ‘apple shaped’.

I can already hear supporters of the King saying the big belly is a sign of wealth and wellbeing. It means the King has a healthy appetite and can afford to eat well: which, of course, is more than can be said for most of his one million subjects. Seven in ten of them earn less than one US dollar a day and don’t know where their next healthy, balanced meal is coming from.

But, whether the King’s friends (many of whom are apple-shaped themselves: or worse, pear shaped) like it or not, King Mswati’s health is at grave risk.

Obesity can cause a number of health problems, such as type 2 diabetes (a condition caused by too much glucose in the blood), and heart disease (when the heart’s blood supply is blocked).

In the short-term, obesity causes problems such as breathlessness, increased sweating, difficulty sleeping, inability to cope with sudden physical activity, and feeling very tired every day. Maybe that’s what the SSN ‘sources’ have been noticing and not mental health problems at all.

Being overweight or obese can also shorten life expectancy (how long a person should live). In obese adults over 40 years of age, as the King is, obesity can shorten life expectancy by six-seven years.

Of course, in Swaziland, life expectancy of a person has been estimated at 33 years, so one might argue that King Mswati has had his allotted time already.

So, what is to be done? Actually, the solution is pretty simple. The King needs to go on a diet and exercise a lot more. If he gets on the treadmill and burns off the calories, he can lose the apple.

But, to lose weight, you have to have willpower.

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