Swaziland (recently renamed Eswatini by the kingdom’s absolute monarch King Mswati III) marked the 50th anniversary of independence from Great Britain on 6 September 2018. But there’s not much to celebrate.
Swaziland is holding elections on 21 September but political parties are banned from taking part. Only 59 members of the House of Assembly are elected by the people; the King appoints another 10. None of the 30 members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people. The elections are recognised across the world as fake. King Mswati chooses the Prime Minister, the government and all top judges and civil servants.
Seven in ten of the 1.1 million population live in abject poverty with incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 per day. The global charity Oxfam named Swaziland as the most unequal country in the world in a report that detailed the differences in countries between the top most earners and those at the bottom.
The World Food Program estimated 350,000 people (a third of the population) in Swaziland were in need of food assistance. WFP helped 65,473 of them. It said it was regularly feeding 52,000 orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) aged under eight years at neighbourhood care points. About 45 percent of all children in thought to be OVCs.
It reported chronic malnutrition affected 26 percent of all children in Swaziland aged under five.
In a report published at the end of May 2018, WFP said it needed US$1.13 million for the six months to November. It reported that due to lack of funds it had to halt indefinitely the Food by Prescription programme that assists people living with HIV and TB. The programme offers nutrition assessments, counselling and support services to 24,000 malnourished people receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART), treatment for TB, prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) services, as well as support to their families through a monthly household ration.
At his 50th birthday in April the Queen Mother gave the King Mswati a dining room suite made of gold. It went alongside a lounge suite trimmed with gold that he was given by senior members of his government.
He also received cheques totalling at least E15 million (US$1.2 million) to help pay for his birthday celebration that took place on 19 April 2018.
On that day he wore a watch worth US$1.6 million and a suit weighing 6 kg studded with diamonds. Days earlier he had taken delivery of his second private jet. This one, an Airbus A340, cost US$13.2 to purchase but with VIP upgrades was estimated to have cost US$30 million.
The King has 13 palaces in impoverished Swaziland. He also owns fleets of top-of-the range Mercedes and BMW cars. His family regularly travel the world on shopping trips spending millions of dollars each time.
The Swazi Observer reported that more than E15 million had been given to pay for the so-called 50-50 Celebration that marked the King’s 50th birthday and the 50th anniversary of Swaziland’s Independence from Great Britain.
At least E1.6 million came from public funds. The Royal Swaziland Police Service and the Royal Correctional Service gave E300,000 each and the Public Service Pension Fund gave E1 million.
The Observer reported King Mswati was in ‘a jovial mood as he received the gifts’.
To mark the 50th anniversary of independence the Swaziland Human Rights Network UK wrote an open letter to the High Commissioner of Swaziland in Great Britain.
It read in part, ‘The 50th Independence Day finds the country mired in myriad socio-economic and political problems: The economy of the kingdom of eSwatini is on a spiralling downturn, worsening human rights record, an alarmingly widening gap between the rich and the poor, an ever increasingly powerful political elite headed by King Mswati III and the Dlamini royal family, rampant government corruption, poor ease of doing business index, record crime statistics including ritual murder, lack of any notable foreign direct investment to name but a few of the significant problems facing the nation. Given the foregoing we ask ourselves if there is anything worth celebrating on the 06th September 2018!
‘We hereby call upon your office to express our collective concerns to the eSwatini government particularly on the issues of human rights and democratic change into a people-driven political plurality. We are alarmed by the most recent and continuing police brutality against peaceful demonstrators. The use of live ammunition by the police against members of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers represents a dangerous and unprecedented nadir on industrial matters and public security.
‘The government’s continuing lavish spending on such projects as the Prime Minister’s retirement home, the aircraft hangar at King Mswati III airport and the expensive luxury vehicles for top government officials against a decline on student scholarships, poor spending on elderly grants and heavy reliance on foreign aid and massive borrowing for capital projects defines a government of upended priorities.
‘We also note with alarm the ever-growing security budget and the acquisition of arms by the security forces at a time when the nation is not at war. Poverty levels remain stubbornly high while the government turns a blind eye to the plight of the poor. Hospitals often have to do without vital medical and equipment supplies. Therefore, we contend that on the 50th Anniversary of the Kingdom of eSwatini’s Independence, there is very little to celebrate!’
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