Tuesday, April 17, 2018


Taiwan, a country not recognised by the United Nations, and Equatorial Guinea, a nation with one of the worst human rights records in the world, are two countries to publicly announce they are sending representatives to King Mswati III’s 50th birthday party.

Little has been heard from other countries in the run-up to the event. Meanwhile, it is unlikely that any heads of Commonwealth countries will attend the so-called 50/50 Celebration.

King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, turns 50 on Thursday (19 April 2018). This years also sees the 50th anniversary of the kingdom’s Independence from Great Britain. Although that anniversary falls on 6 September, the King decreed both events should be celebrated on the day of his birthday.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen flew into Swaziland on Tuesday and will hold private talks with the King while in the kingdom. Taiwan has been cultivating Swaziland for many years and is a major contributor of aid. Taiwan donated US$1.3 million toward the cost of the 50/50 Celebration. Taiwanese textile firms operate in Swaziland and have a poor record on workers’ rights.
The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported on Tuesday (17 April 2018) that President Tsai Ing-wen would bring a number of gifts, including five cattle for the King. Swaziland is one of only 20 countries in the world that has diplomatic ties with Taiwan. It supports Taiwan’s application to become a member of the United Nations.

The same newspaper reported that Equatorial Guinea Vice-President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue was also due to attend.

Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, known as an international playboy, was found guilty in France of corruption in 2017 and given a suspended jail sentenced of three years. The sentence came after a long investigation by French authorities into allegations that Obiang embezzled US$175 million from his country to buy luxury cars, real estate, and other assets in France. Those assets have been seized. The sentence included a suspended fine of 30 million euro (US$34.78 million).

In September 2011 Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue visited Swaziland. While he stayed at the five-star Royal Villas Resort he had his bag stolen – containing US$2.5 million in bank notes. 

Equatorial Guinea is nominally a multiparty constitutional republic but since a military coup in 1979, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue’s father) has dominated all branches of government in collaboration with his clan and political party, the Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE), which he founded in 1991, according to a human rights report for 2016 published by the US State Department.

He received a claimed 93.7 percent of the vote in an election in 2016 that was considered neither free nor fair, the report stated.

The report added, ‘The most significant human rights problems in the country were disregard for rule of law, including police use of excessive force and torture, denial of freedom of speech, and widespread official corruption.’

Meanwhile, it is unlikely that a head of a Commonwealth country will attend. The Commonwealth Heads of State Summit takes place in London this week. A protest against Swaziland at that event organised by ACTSA (Action for Southern Africa) is planned for 19 April 2018. 

In Swaziland, political parties are barred from taking part in elections and the King chooses the Prime Minister and government ministers. Opposition groups have been banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

ACTSA said in a statement, ‘The Commonwealth has singularly failed to hold the Swazi authorities to account. The Commonwealth Secretariat does not appear to have a strategy for applying pressure on the King. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group must now review Swaziland’s status and the Commonwealth Secretary General must explicitly support this action. The Commonwealth’s credibility is on the line.’

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