Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Swaziland’s Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini is too blinkered to have seen the irony when last week he told newspaper editors that the Swazi people had made it clear they were happy with the political situation in the kingdom and then days later the police, acting without a court order, stopped a public debate taking place on the same subject, declaring it was a threat to national security.

Dlamini was commenting on the forthcoming national election in Swaziland where political parties are banned. In recent months there has been an increasingly vocal campaign in the kingdom to boycott the election unless parties are allowed to take part.

The PM told a meeting of editors that the people had been asked a number of times whether they wanted to change from the present system. For the past 40 years Swaziland has been under the rule of an autocratic monarchy. In 1973 King Sobhuza II made a Royal decree that junked the Constitution and allowed himself to make any laws or change existing ones as he saw fit.

The decree has not been rescinded since and today his son King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Dlamini is entirely wrong when he asserts that the people of Swaziland have given their support to the current political system. In fact they have never been asked.

The closest the kingdom’s rulers got to asking the question was in the ten years running up to the writing of what is known as the 2005 Swaziland Constitution.  But the authorities had so little confidence that people would support the status quo that they did not allow them to discuss in any meaningful way what should be in the constitution.

The only submissions that were allowed on the subject had to come from individual people expressing personal opinions. NGOs, professors from universities, research groups or any collection of people who might have had expertise on constitutional matters or the political and economic situation pertaining in Swaziland were barred.

The consultation was so flawed that the International Bar Association (IBA), a group of experienced lawyers called in by King Mswati to comment on the first draft of the constitution, called the process ‘flawed’ and reported that one critic went so far as to call it a ‘fraud’.

The IBA pointed out that the judiciary and non-government organisations (NGOs) were not allowed to take part in the consultation. Also, individuals were interviewed in front of their chiefs so were not free to say what they really thought about the powers of the king and what he and his followers like to call Swaziland’s ‘unique democracy’, the Tinkhundla system.

IBA said the consultation did not allow for groups to make submissions and incomplete records were kept of the submissions that were made so, IBA said, there was no formal record of how Swazi citizens presented their views and of what in fact they said.

On top of this the IBA reported that the Swaziland media were not allowed to report on the submissions.

‘Furthermore, information was elicited in a highly charged atmosphere. Individuals were reportedly asked, in the presence of chiefs, whether they wanted to retain the King and whether they preferred political parties,’ IBA said.

Under these circumstances it is obvious why the people said they wanted to keep the existing system.

So, we must not allow the king and the unelected Prime Minister he personally chose to claim that the people have made it clear they are happy with things the way they are.

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