There is no date set to review restoration of Swaziland’s status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), despite claims from Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini that his government has met requirements to introduce democratic reforms to the kingdom.
Rodney Ford, a spokesman for African affairs at the U.S. State Department, was quoted by Bloomsberg News saying, ‘Swaziland is among many countries under review,’ and no decision had been made on whether the kingdom had taken steps since US President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw AGOA trade benefits from Swaziland.
Bloomberg quoted Ford saying there was no scheduled date for the review to be announced.
The US announced in June 2014 that preferential trading status under AGOA would be removed on 1 January 2015, from Swaziland which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
The US withdrew Swaziland’s AGOA privileges after the kingdom ignored an ultimatum to implement the full passage of amendments to the Industrial Relations Act; full passage of amendments to the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA); full passage of amendments to the Public Order Act; full passage of amendments to sections 40 and 97 of the Industrial Relations Act relating to civil and criminal liability to union leaders during protest actions; and establishing a code of conduct for the police during public protests.
In June 2014 the US Trade Representative Michael Froman said, ‘The withdrawal of AGOA benefits is not a decision that is taken lightly.
‘We have made our concerns very clear to Swaziland over the last several years and we engaged extensively on concrete steps that Swaziland could take to address the concerns.’
Now, Swaziland Prime Minister Dlamini, who was not elected to office by the people but appointed to head the government by King Mswati personally, is claiming that the kingdom has met the requirements and should have its benefits restored. He is being supported in this by the Swazi Observer, a group of newspaper in effect owned by the King.
The Observer reported Dlamini saying his government had done its part in making sure that the kingdom met the five benchmarks set by the Americans.
Dlamini and the media in Swaziland have been blaming trade unionists in the kingdom for the withdrawal of the AGOA benefits, even though they have no power to implement the changes the Americans are seeking.
Already 1,450 jobs in the textile industry have been lost in Swaziland and many more are expected to go in the New Year as a result of the loss of AGOA benefits.
Since announcing the removal of AGOA benefits in June 2014, the US has continued to criticise Swaziland for its poor human rights record.
In August it criticised Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini after he called for two workers’ leaders to be ‘strangled’ after they criticised his government’s human rights record. It called the comment ‘threatening’.
In a statement the United States Department of State said, ‘Such remarks have a chilling effect on labor and civil rights in the Kingdom of Swaziland.’
It added, ‘The United States continues to support and defend fundamental freedoms, including freedom of association, and the human rights defenders who fight for these values each day. We call upon the Government to renounce the Prime Minister’s remarks and to ensure respect for the constitutionally enshrined rights of all citizens.’
In July 2014 the US State Department criticised the jailing for two years of magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer and writer Thulani Maseko after they wrote articles critical of the Swazi judiciary.
In a statement the State Department said, ‘Their convictions for contempt of court for publishing an article critical of the High Court of Swaziland and their ongoing prolonged detention appear to undermine respect for Swaziland’s human rights obligations, particularly the right to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in Swaziland’s own constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United States strongly supports the universal fundamental freedom of expression and is deeply concerned by the actions of the Swazi Government.’
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