Thursday, April 4, 2019

‘Forbes’ article praising Swaziland King thought to be April Fool joke was public relations piece

An article in the international business magazine Forbes Africa that praised King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of impoverished Swaziland / eSwatini, for his ‘his highest aspirations for the welfare of its people,’ that was widely circulated on social media on 1 April 2019 was thought by many to be an April Fool joke.

Instead, it turns out the article was genuine; but it was not a piece of objective journalism, only public relations. It was produced by the marketing company Penresa and was published in the magazine for a fee. The cost has not been publicly disclosed. Penresa said the article was produced with the ‘guidance’ of Sibi Mngomezulu, eSwatini Ambassador in Brussels, and Christian Nkambule, eSwatini High Commissioner in London. 

The articles raised smiles among people with knowledge of the kingdom that has been in financial meltdown for years. The King holds power by banning political parties from taking part in elections and jailing those who campaign for democracy.

The article referred to the Royal Family’s as intent on bringing ‘prosperity to the country with forward-thinking measures that are paving the way for the nation’s sharp national economic growth and modernisation’.

The article did not say that when delivering the national budget in February 2019 Finance Minister Neal Rijkenberg reported Swaziland was broke and ‘facing an unprecedented economic crisis’. In his speech he said the ‘economic outlook remains subdued’. Foreign direct investment into the kingdom ruled by King Mswati who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, was getting worse – with a contraction of 0.4 percent in Swaziland’s GDP for 2018.

‘The economy has stagnated and we are failing to attract investment as the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow,’ Rijkenberg said. He added that for too long, ‘this economic reality has not been addressed’.

Forbes Africa made no mention of the vast spending by King Mswati and his Royal Family who continue to spend lavishly. The King has at least 13 palaces and fleets of top-of-the-range Mercedes and BMW cars. He and members of his extensive Royal Family (he has had at least 15 wives) live opulent lifestyles and are often seen in public wearing watches and jewels worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The King wore a watch worth US$1.6 million and a suit beaded with diamonds weighing 6 kg, at his 50th birthday party in April 2018. Days earlier, King Mswati took delivery of his second private jet aircraft that with upgrades was estimated to have cost US$30 million.

In recent years public hospitals have run out of vital medicines and schools have closed because supplies of food to feed children have run out. This is because the government failed to pay suppliers. 

The article in Forbes Africa was produced by Penresa which describes itself as ‘an independent consultancy agency, specialized in marketing and communication for emerging markets’.

It said it targeted countries that are ‘casting off their former labels’.

Richard Rooney

See also

Swaziland people pay E1 billion for absolute King’s upkeep, but it’s kept a secret

Swaziland King prepares for lavish birthday celebrations, despite dire poverty in the kingdom

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