Saturday, March 28, 2009


Swaziland’s illegally-appointed prime minister, Barnabas Dlamini says his government is to ‘review’ the Swazi Constitution.

He told the Swazi House of Assembly the constitution which came into effect in 2005 was ‘a newly-crafted document defining the principles by which the state will operate’.

He said the review would take place sometime over the next four years.

Unfortunately, he didn’t say why the review was needed or what process would be used.

There is reason to be pessimistic since Dlamini’s government has little respect for the constitution. Dlamini was himself unconstitutionally appointed prime minister by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Most of the government was also appointed illegally.

Earlier this month, the Swazi High Court ruled that the government was in breach of the constitution by not providing free primary schooling for all children in Swaziland.

I suspect the general principle of a review of the constitution will be welcomed by democrats. In November 2008, following the elections, the Commonwealth Expert Team called for a review because the elections were not credible since political parties were banned in Swaziland.

It said that the review ‘should be carried out through a process of full consultation with Swazi political organisations and civil society (possibly with the support of constitutional experts).’

There was also very little credibility in the way in which the constitution was originally drawn up. King Mswati invited the International Bar Association (IBA) to review the first draft of the constitution and the IBA’s verdict was damning.

The report called the constitution ‘flawed’ and went so far as to cite one critic who called the constitution ‘a fraud.’

One of the IBA’s main conclusions was that the ‘position and powers’ of some ‘stakeholders’ in Swaziland, ‘including the Monarchy’ are in effect actually placed above the constitution and its principles'.

The IBA said that the judiciary and NGOs were not allowed to contribute to the drafting process and individual Swazi people were interviewed in the presence of their chiefs. As a result the ‘overwhelming’ majority wanted the King to keep all his powers and wanted the position of traditional advisers to the King to be strengthened. They also wanted Swazi customs to have supremacy over any international rights obligations.

Considering how the ‘consultation’ of the Swazi people was conducted it is no surprise they reached this conclusion.

Now we must wait to see how Barnabas Dlamini proposes to conduct the constitutional review. If he is serious that the kingdom needs a legitimate constitution he must allow everyone who wants to take part in a truly open and transparent process. Then we’ll really see how many Swazis want the present set up.

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