Thursday, April 14, 2011


The present unrest is caused because people in Swaziland are really angry at the monarchy, the state and the lack of delivery of resources, according to the Star, Toronto.


Is Swaziland the next Libya?

The Star, Toronto

13 April 2011

Is Swaziland, a tiny, impoverished, AIDS-ridden country, the next Libya?

Union leaders and pro-democracy activists seem divided as to how to proceed with fighting to overthrow Swaziland's monarchy, according to Associated Press and Canadian Press.

For the second day in a row police used more force to quell protests, bursting into the teacher union’s headquarters where more than 300 teachers were singing liberation songs, chanting and dancing. Police fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse the crowd. Some teachers hid in nearby bushes.

Police have stormed a press conference, searched reporters and told union leaders that protesters could not say at union headquarters overnight. Two armed police vehicles were stationed outside.

Sibongile Mazibuko, president of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers, was detained, then released and has since gone into hiding.

But will the protests turn into the fierce pro-democracy movement that has captured the hearts of the population of many other African nations?

Alan Whiteside, a professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and head of the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division, doesn’t believe the civil unrest will lead to the same kind of fighting and violence as seen in Libya or other African countries.

Whiteside, who grew up in Swaziland, is currently writing a book on the political economy of that country. He knows the countryside and its people intimately. He has also penned two of the definitive books on AIDS in Africa, including HIV/AIDS: A Short Introduction and AIDS in the Twenty-First Century.

The reasons behind the unrest and civil disobedience are twofold in his mind. At the heart of the unrest in Swaziland is the economic downturn in the country, triggered by both the worldwide recession and a retooling of the Southern Africa Customs Union, a revenue sharing agreement between South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana and Namibia.

“Swaziland has seen a huge decrease in customs revenue,” Whiteside explained in an exclusive interview with the Star. “And that has started biting civil servants who are facing pay cuts and retrenchment (layoffs). That’s the first reason this has all come to a head.”

The second reason the unrest has bubbled up is because people are really angry at the monarchy, the state and the lack of delivery of resources. “We shouldn’t underestimate the impact of HIV/AIDS,” he said on the phone from Durban, South Africa.

About 40 per cent of pregnant women in Swaziland have HIV/AIDS and overall the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate across the population is 18.8 per cent.

“This is a country which is ravaged by the epidemic. And I think that has lead to people being very impatient with the fact so many resources are being spent on the royal family. Actually, what people need is work, social services and antiretroviral therapy.”

Swaziland became independent in 1968. It was a constitutional monarchy, but in 1973 King Sobhuza II repealed the constitution, deciding he didn’t like democracy. His son Mswati took over when the king died in 1981.

According to Associated Press, activists had planned this week’s protests to mark 38 years since the current Swazi king's father, King Sobhuza II, banned political parties and abandoned the country's constitution.

Analysts suggest that Swaziland’s current king Mswati has failed to understand the nature of a modern state and modern economy. His rule has been described by some as a “royal kleptocracy.”

Whiteside suggests that there are two likely scenarios in Swaziland. The first scenario Whiteside envisions is that Swazi’s ruler wakes up to how angry his people are and makes some real changes, allowing political parties and endorsing a modern constitution.

The second scenario, he dreads. He fears there will be no real change and the country will steadily become worse because not many people care about Swaziland.

Whiteside hopes the first is what Mswati chooses. “We shouldn’t underestimate how much power he has and how much respect his office has.”

The pro-democracy movement, spearheaded by the unions, first took root in March in Swaziland when the government announced its plan to freeze civil service salaries and sell off state-run companies.

The IMF's mission chief for Swaziland, Joannes Mongardini, said the country's budget crisis was exacerbated by an out-of-budget wage increase for civil servants and politicians in April 2010 and a $50 million budget addendum for a new airport project.

With files from Canadian Press and Associated Press

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