Thursday, April 20, 2017


King Mswati III, the autocratic ruler of Swaziland, told his subjects that the impoverished kingdom would achieve ‘First World’ status by 2022 if they prayed hard enough.
He told congregants gathered at the Easter Sunday service at Somhlolo Stadium to have faith.

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King and described by the Media Institute of Southern Africa in a report on press freedom in the kingdom as a ‘pure propaganda machine for the royal family’,  reported on Tuesday (18 April 2017), ‘He said the worshippers should start believing that Swaziland is already in the first world status and it will surely come to pass if they believe it. 

‘His Majesty King Mswati III said it was very imperative for the country to attain first world status so that the coming generations can enjoy it.’

The King has been talking about Swaziland becoming a ‘First World’ nation for some years, but has never made it clear what he means by it. 

The concept of the ‘First World’ nation is a little outdated. During the time of the Cold War, following the Second World War, the ‘First World’ nations were generally considered to be those that supported the United States, against the Soviet Union and the ‘communist bloc’. In the past 20 years or so, since the ‘fall’ of the Soviet Union, the term ‘First World’ has begun to fall into disuse.

There are many modern-day definitions of ‘First World’, but they all insist that to be included in this category a nation must be a multi-party democracy and people must be able to elect and dismiss their government.

Swaziland is not like this. King Mswati III rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the King chooses the Prime Minister and government. There is no way for the people to either elect or dismiss the King’s government.

‘First World’ status cannot be achieved without a movement towards democracy. King Mswati has no intention of allowing this to happen and he continues to keep a firm grip on any public dissent in his kingdom. 

Another ‘definition’ of ‘First World’ speaks to prosperity and the health of the nation’s economy. But, Swaziland is nowhere close to becoming prosperous. 

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Swaziland issued a report in February 2014 that received no publicity in the kingdom, that said if Swaziland were to achieve ‘First World’ status it would have to be ‘among high human development countries like Norway, Australia, United States, Netherlands and Germany to name a few’.

UNDP went on to give these statistics comparing present-day Swaziland with Norway, the United States and Germany.

Life expectancy: Swaziland (48.9 years); Norway (81.3); United States (78.7); Germany (80.6).

Mean average years of schooling: Swaziland (7.1); Norway (12.6); United States (13.3); Germany (12.2).

Percentage of population with at least secondary school education: Swaziland (48); Norway (95.2); United States (94.5); Germany (96.6).

The UNDP in Swaziland did not comment on the likelihood of Swaziland reaching ‘First World’ status by 2022; it did not have to. Any independent observer can see from these statistics that Swaziland is not even close to reaching the King’s target.

The UNDP is not alone. In 2012, a report published by 24/7 Wall St in the United States, and based on data from the World Bank, identified Swaziland as the fifth poorest country in the entire world.

It said 69 percent of King Mswati’s 1.3 million subjects lived in poverty.

Its report stated, ‘[T]he country’s workforce is largely concentrated in subsistence agriculture, even though the country faces serious concerns about overgrazing and soil depletion. While these factors harm the nation’s economy, health concerns are likely one of the major factors preventing Swaziland’s population from escaping poverty.’

King Mswati does little to address this situation. His latest call to prayer is another distraction away from the true dire situation in Swaziland and misleads his subjects about the prospects of achieving ‘First World’ status.

Richard Rooney

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