Thursday, January 23, 2014


Journalists in Swaziland were blocked from taking photographs of the human rights abuser, Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, when he arrived to visit King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The president arrived in the kingdom this week with a delegation of more than 50 people, including investors who were looking for business opportunities.

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, reported, ‘The media was initially turned back from the airport as it was stated that orders were that no pictures be captured of the president’s visit to Swaziland.  

‘A protocol officer only referred to as Shongwe approached journalists who were taking pictures of those present at the airport and informed them to stop at once. 

‘“I have been instructed to tell you that you aren’t allowed to take pictures of this private visit so please delete what you have,” Shongwe warned. 

‘As he addressed the journalists, more than 12 police officers came threateningly and surrounded the group of perplexed journalists and closely monitored the situation.  Shongwe later retracted his statement and stated that his superiors had changed their minds, allowing media houses to report on the visit.’

King Mswati has a close relationship with the President of Equatorial Guinea. It was reported in January 2012 that the King had done a deal with the President to import crude oil into his kingdom.

Thembinkosi Mamba, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy, said at the time the Swazi Government had plans to build its own refinery so that, in future, crude oil would be brought directly to Swaziland for refinement and separation, thereby, cutting down on costs.

Swazi Media Commentary reported at the time that the deal looked to be something special the King had dreamt up. In the past, as with the US$5 billion power plant deal that turned out to be a con-trick, the King had bypassed his parliament and made deals on his own initiative. 

At the time of the oil refinery deal, Obiang’s regime had been labelled one of the world’s most corrupt by international rights groups.  Transparency International ranked Equatorial Guinea 168th out of 178 countries for its efforts in tackling corruption.

Human rights abuses in Equatorial Guinea are well documented. The US State Department, in a report on Equatorial Guinea published in May 2012, revealed, corruption and impunity continued to be big human rights problems in Equatorial Guinea. 

‘Security forces extorted money from citizens and immigrants at police checkpoints. There was no internal investigation unit within the police, and mechanisms to investigate allegations of abuse were poorly developed.’

It added, ‘security forces sometimes committed abuses with impunity. The government did not maintain effective internal or external mechanisms to investigate security force abuses.’

Lawyers in the country report arbitrary arrests. ‘Lawyers did not have access to police stations and could not contact detainees while they were held there; police superintendents when interviewed stated they did not see the need for or advisability of such access.

In 2012, newspapers in Swaziland suppressed news about Mbasogo during his visit to Swaziland when instructed to do so by a Swazi Government minister.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland Chapter reported in its annual review on media freedom, ‘In January 2012, Minister of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT), Winnie Magagula held an impromptu meeting with all [print] editors , where she told them they must positively report the visit of Equatorial Guinean President, Teodora Obiang Nguema Mbasago.

‘The newspapers heeded her directive: all the media houses waxed lyrical about the expected socio-economic benefits to be reaped from a questionable oil deal.

‘The editors suppressed President Mbasago’s negative stories of graft and repression that were run by the international media. In fact, the Swazi Observer was forced to apologise for a cable news item published by SAPA (South African Press Association) that negatively exposed the President.’

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