Thursday, February 21, 2019

Swaziland’s absolute king misses out on AU Chair because his kingdom is broke

King Mswati III, the autocratic ruler of Swaziland / eSwatini, has lost the chance to be chair of the African Union in 2020 because his kingdom is broke.

The honour will now go to the head of state of South Africa, who is presently Cyril Ramaphosa.

King Mswati had been expected to take the chair of the AU Commission which changes each year, but at its heads of state summit in Addis Ababa earlier in February 2019 the decision was made to make the change.

Media in South Africa reported Swaziland missed out on the chair because it did not have the resources to fulfil the role. 

The AU is an organisation that promotes unity and solidarity among African states.

City Press in South Africa reported officials ‘made a desperate plea to South Africa’ to take over the chair.

It added, ‘They cited “capacity constraints” as the reason eSwatini could not fulfil this duty, according to government officials with knowledge of the meeting.’

The Daily Maverick reported,There was talk initially that it was eSwatini’s turn to lead. Officials, however, said the monarchy – which is heavily in debt – complained about “capacity constraints”. The officials didn’t clarify the meaning of this, but it seems to be about money.’

Swaziland is still expected to host the AU mid-year summit. However, following reforms mid-year summits have been downgraded to ‘gatherings’. 

Even if Swaziland does host the mid-year meeting, South Africa is reportedly expected to meet most of the expenses, the Daily Maverick reported an official saying.

This was, ‘because it would have to provide security and logistics,’ the official said.

Swaziland does not have the military, the cars or drivers to transport all the important people who would be attending, it was reported.

It is no secret that Swaziland is broke. Hospitals have run out of vital drugs and schools have been forced to close because the government has not paid its suppliers. In his budget speech in March 2018 Finance Minister Martin Dlamini said government owed E3.1bn (US$230 million) in total to its suppliers for goods and services. 

Even with these debts, the government, which is not elected but handpicked by King Mswati, allocated E1.5 billion for a conference centre and five-star hotel to house the AU summit. This was more than the sum allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture (E1.4bn) or the Ministry of Defence (E1.15bn). It was the biggest single capital project in Swaziland’s budget that year. Total capital spending was set at E5.6bn.

In 2016, when King Mswati was Chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) he took about E40m, mostly from public funds, to host a lavish Heads of State summit at a time when his government was so poor it could release only E22 million of the E305 million earmarked for drought relief in that year’s national budget. 

When he formally opened the Swaziland Parliament on 8 February 2019, King Mswati demanded severe public spending cuts for the coming year. He said the kingdom’s spending had ‘surpassed sustainable levels’ and government debts were increasing. The kingdom’s financial reserves were falling and there was little economic growth. He warned that taxes collected in Swaziland would not be enough to pay the bills.

See also

Kingdom fails SADC delegates
Millions ‘wasted’ on luxury vehicles at SADC summit
Absolute king takes chair of SADC
‘Dictator king not fit to chair SADC’

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