Friday, August 21, 2009


My report yesterday (19 August 2009) that some of the wives of Swaziland’s King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, have undertaken a round the world shopping spree spending as much as six million US dollars is attracting international attention.

Below is a report from the Times of London, dated 21 August 2009.

Swaziland’s king sends wives on shopping spree while subjects go hungry

King Mswati III of Swaziland, Africa’s last absolute monarch and ruler of some of the poorest people in the world, has sent his favourite wives on a multimillion-pound shopping jaunt through Europe, the Middle East and Asia, provoking fierce criticism of his profligacy.

Britain has been drawn into the row because of the millions of pounds in aid reportedly given to the kingdom, with campaigners accusing Whitehall of double standards. “They shout about Zimbabwe, but keep quiet about what is happening in Swaziland, even though they are one of its biggest aid donors. They are wasting British taxpayers’ money on this tyrant,” Lucky Lukhele, of the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN), told The Times.

The landlocked kingdom of Swaziland is home to about 1.2 million people, more than two thirds of whom live in abject poverty on less than 50 pence a day. More than a quarter of the adult population has HIV — the highest ratio in the world.

The king enjoys a personal fortune of about £145 million, as the beneficiary of two funds created by his father, Sobhuza II, in trust for the nation. He also receives money from the national budget for his family’s upkeep. Last year this totalled £12 million — more than was set aside for education.

Reports from the kingdom said that the king had dispatched at least five of his 13 wives and dozens of retainers to France, Italy, Dubai and Taiwan on a secret tour last week, using £4 million from the state budget. In Swaziland it is a criminal offence to criticise the king’s private life. The Government declined to comment.

Swaziland is heavily dependent on handouts from the international community. According to SSN, Britain pays the lion’s share of an estimated £65 million in annual European Union aid, the second-highest amount after the US, which donates about $200 million (£142 million) a year.

Two years ago, Foreign and Commonwealth Office cuts led to the closure of the UK’s Embassy in Mbabane, the capital, and the country is now monitored from neighbouring South Africa. A British diplomatic source said that the Government had made clear its concern over “governance issues” in Swaziland and no longer gave bilateral support.

King Mswati, who was educated at the English public school at Sherborne, Dorset, is no stranger to controversy. In May he bought 20 armoured Mercedes Benz cars at a cost of £150,000 each; last year he held a sumptuous “40/40” party to celebrate the twin events of his 40th birthday and the 40th anniversary of his country’s independence.

He owns several private palaces where he houses his many wives, some of whom have run away and sought refuge in South Africa.


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