Monday, April 20, 2009


The hypocrisy of Swaziland’s Royal Family has been exposed with news that one of King Mswati III’s many wives is off on a jaunt to the United States to discuss African women’s poverty with a group of other First Ladies from Africa.

Starting today (20 April 2009) in Los Angeles, California, is a two-day ‘summit’ for 15 ‘First Ladies’ (the wives of the leaders of countries) of Africa to discuss matters of women’s health, HIV AIDS, poverty, clean water and other burning issues. The summit ends with a gala ball.

This all presents a bit of a social etiquette problem for Swaziland, because King Mswati III has at least 13 wives (we can’t be sure of the exact number he has because this is information that the Swazi people are not allowed to know) so is he allowed to send them all?

It would seem not, since I hear Inkhosikati LaMbikiza has been nominated to go. By my reckoning, she’s the king’s third wife, so doesn’t that make her Swaziland’s Third Lady, and perhaps not eligible to attend?

But why send 15 African wives all the way to Los Angeles to talk about Africa? One of the organisers, Jean Stephane Biatcha, let the cat out of the bag. ‘These first ladies already know Washington and New York. We thought that by coming to Los Angeles, some of the inspiration that inspires movie makers could also inspire them in their objectives.’

Some movie stars are expected to show their faces at the summit, but it seems to me like a jolly jaunt and an opportunity for LaMbikiza to get in some more shopping.

Swaziland’s Times Sunday reported yesterday (19 April 2009) that LaMbikiza would be meeting the US First Lady Michelle Obama. They are both attorneys, the newspaper gushed, so ‘for the two first ladies it is a meeting of legal eagles’.

In Swaziland, the newspapers can gush all they want about one of the king’s wives going off on a jaunt to America, but in the world at large, questions are being raised.

It has been noted that a careful look at the guest list reveals that some of the attendees are married to some of Africa’s ‘most notorious dictators’.

The ‘dictator of Swaziland, King Mswati III’ and his unusual domestic circumstances gets a special mention.

I was interested to read that LaMbikiza (an attorney) would have a meeting of minds with Michelle Obama: perhaps LaMbikiza could fill in the US First Lady on how the Swazi Government has been implementing the new Swaziland Constitution, particularly in reference to women’s rights, primary education for girls and the gender composition of parliament.

They could discuss the US State Department’s annual review of Swaziland which details how rape was regarded by many men as a minor offense, despite being against the law; domestic violence against women, particularly wife beating, was common; and traditional courts were unsympathetic to ‘unruly’ or ‘disobedient’ women.

The report concluded, ‘Women occupied a subordinate role in society.’

Alas, the chance is lost: Michelle is not going. Her office in a terse statement says, ‘She is not attending.’ And who could blame her with the wives of so many despots on show?

I am reminded of what her husband US President Barak Obama said in his inaugural address in January, ‘To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history’.

Meanwhile, readers of the US News and World Report have been giving their verdicts on the First Ladies’ summit.

One says, ‘These crooks are just out for a “ladies night out” in the name of Africa...They should spend the millions of dollars that will be wasted on actually helping Africa...which by the way, the only help Africa needs is for these tyrants to step down and let democracy reign in Africa.’

Another says, ‘If these first ladies are serious about fighting for women issues then they start from their home countries where women are suffering and a lot of prostitution has been in the rise due to the economic situations that their husbands have put the populations into. The monies spent to attend these events are monies that should be directed to the poor women in villages in the respective countries.’

I look forward to hearing from LaMbikiza upon her return to Swaziland about how the lives of Swazi women will change as a result of the summit.

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