Thursday, February 28, 2019

Swaziland ‘not free’ as King keeps grip on power, Freedom House reports

King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland /eSwatini, continues to hold a tight grip on power and all aspects of life in the kingdom, a review of human rights has concluded.

Freedom House scored Swaziland 16 out of a possible 100 points in its Freedom in the World 2019 report. It concluded that Swaziland was ‘not free’.

Freedom House stated, ‘The king exercises ultimate authority over all branches of the national government and effectively controls local governance through his influence over traditional chiefs. Political dissent and civic and labor activism are subject to harsh punishment under sedition and other laws. Additional human rights problems include impunity for security forces and discrimination against women and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people.’

National elections took place in Swaziland in 2018. Freedom House scored Swaziland zero out of a possible 12 points for its ‘electoral process’. It stated, ‘The king, who remains the chief executive authority, is empowered to appoint and dismiss the prime minister and members of the cabinet. The prime minister is ostensibly the head of government, but has little power in practice. Ambrose Dlamini was appointed prime minister in October 2018, although he was not a member of Parliament at the time of his appointment, as required by the constitution.

Traditional chiefs govern their respective localities and typically report directly to the king. While some chiefs inherit their positions according to custom, others are appointed through royal interventions, as allowed by the constitution.

‘The 69-member House of Assembly, the lower chamber of the bicameral Parliament, features 59 members elected by popular vote within the tinkhundla system, which allows local chiefs to vet candidates and influence outcomes in practice; the king appoints the other 10 members. The king appoints 20 members of the 30-seat Senate, the upper chamber, with the remainder selected by the House of Assembly. All members of Parliament serve five-year terms. After the parliamentary elections in September 2018, the king appointed six members of the royal family to the House of Assembly, and eight to the Senate. The elections, which were tightly controlled and featured a slate of candidates almost entirely loyal to the king, did not offer voters a genuine choice.

‘In August, a senior official at the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) reported that members of the House of Assembly were accepting bribes in exchange for their votes in Senate elections. At year’s end, no apparent consequences had followed.’

Freedom House scored Swaziland one point out of a possible 16 for ‘political pluralism and participation’ stating, ‘The king has tight control over the political system in law and in practice, leaving no room for the emergence of an organized opposition with the potential to enter government. The vast majority of candidates who contested the 2018 general elections were supporters of the king.’

Political parties are banned from taking part in elections. Freedom House stated, ‘Over the years, political parties seeking legal recognition have suffered court defeats, including a Supreme Court ruling in September 2018 rejecting a challenge by the Swazi Democratic Party (SWADEPA) to the ban on political parties competing in elections.’

Swaziland scored zero out of a possible 12 points for ‘functioning of government.’ The king appoints the Prime Minister and government ministers. Freedom House stated, ‘The king and his government determine policy and legislation; members of Parliament hold no real power and effectively act as a rubber stamp in approving the king’s legislative priorities. Parliament cannot initiate legislation and has little oversight or influence on budgetary matters. The king is also constitutionally empowered to veto any legislation. The absolute authority of the king was demonstrated by his decision to rename the country in April 2018 [from Swaziland to eSwatini] without any constitutional process or parliamentary approval.

Freedom House is not the only international organisation to highlight the lack of human rights in Swaziland. The United States in its annual report on the kingdom for 2017 (the most recent available) stated, ‘The most significant human rights issues included: arbitrary interference with privacy and home; restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and association; denial of citizens’ ability to choose their government in free and fair elections; institutional lack of accountability in cases involving rape and violence against women; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, although rarely enforced; trafficking in persons; restrictions on worker rights; and child labor.

‘With few exceptions, the government did not prosecute or administratively punish officials who committed abuses. In general perpetrators acted with impunity.’

Amnesty International in a review of Swaziland for 2017 / 2018 stated, ‘Forced evictions continued to be carried out. The Public Order Act and the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA) severely limited the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. A ban on opposition parties continued. Gender-related violence remained prevalent.’

It added, ‘King Mswati approved the Public Order Act on 8 August, which curtailed the rights to freedom of assembly and association, imposing far-reaching restrictions on organizers of public gatherings. The Act also failed to provide mechanisms to hold law enforcement officials accountable for using excessive force against protesters or public gatherings.’

Human Rights Watch in its report on events in Swaziland in 2016 stated Swaziland, ‘continued to repress political dissent and disregard human rights and rule of law principles in 2016. Political parties remained banned, as they have been since 1973; the independence of the judiciary is severely compromised, and repressive laws continued to be used to target critics of the government and the king despite the 2005 Swaziland Constitution guaranteeing basic rights.’

See also

Swazi law used against human rights

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Gap between rich and poor in Swaziland continues to grow, Finance Minister reports

Swaziland / eSwatini is broke and ‘is facing an unprecedented economic crisis’, Finance Minister Neal Rijkenberg said on Wednesday (27 February 2019) when delivering the kingdom’s national budget.

The ‘economic outlook remains subdued’, he said. Foreign direct investment into the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, is getting worse – with a contraction of 0.4 percent in Swaziland’s GDP for 2018.

‘The economy has stagnated and we are failing to attract investment as the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow,’ Rijkenberg said. He added that for too long, ‘this economic reality has not been addressed’.

He made no mention of the vast spending by King Mswati and his Royal Family who continue to spend lavishly. The King has 13 palaces and fleets of top-of-the-range Mercedes and BMW cars. He and members of his extensive Royal Family (he has had at least 15 wives) live opulent lifestyles and are often seen in public wearing watches and jewels worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The King wore a watch worth US$1.6 million and a suit beaded with diamonds weighing 6 kg, at his 50th birthday party in April 2018. Days earlier, King Mswati took delivery of his second private jet aircraft that with upgrades was estimated to have cost US$30 million.

In recent years public hospitals have run out of vital medicines and schools have closed because supplies of food to feed children have run out. This is because the government failed to pay suppliers. 

In Swaziland, seven in ten of the estimated 1.3 million population live in abject poverty with incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 per day.

In his speech Rijkenberg said, ‘A key component of our crisis is Government’s growing wage bill – in the last ten years our wage bill has grown by 125 percent.’

He said receipts from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) were declining. He said the Swaziland Government’s financial situation was ‘untenable, in the medium term’ as SACU receipts were expected to decline further.

Rijkenberg said in his speech, ‘We are in trouble because our private sector is too small and its growth is too slow. We are in trouble because we have not been balancing our books. We are in trouble because we have not developed a strong policy framework to address the needs of our people. We are in trouble because we have failed to leverage our natural resources, human capital and our strengths. 

‘We are in trouble because we have failed to adequately address corruption. We need a holistic, integrated approach that immediately and radically addresses these structural imbalances and failures - one that requires sacrifice, but that ultimately benefits every Liswati [Swazi person], especially the poorest and most vulnerable.’

He warned, ‘We have to grow our economy, create jobs, and attract investment. We have to educate our children, care for our sick and provide a social safety net for our most vulnerable citizens. We do not have the luxuries of time and infinite resources. We must act now and do so with what we have in our hands.’

He added, ‘Recent history has shown that spending our way out of an economic crisis is not the solution. It is clear that tough measures are required to achieve lasting prosperity. Meaningful growth will be achieved by enabling the private sector to lead and do what it does best, which includes growing our economy and creating employment. Government can no longer be the employer of choice in the Kingdom as it is today.’

Rijkenberg said, ‘Government will do its part to enact new policies and pass the required legislation to de-regulate and open the economy for business. This new, enabling environment will allow the private sector to take the lead, unlocking results like food security, accessible and affordable internet infrastructure, a renewable energy industry, increased tourism and full utilisation of our Special Economic Zones.’

See also

Swaziland health crisis getting worse as budgets cut. Rural areas most affected

Swaziland’s national economic recovery plan is nothing but a wish list

Friday, February 22, 2019

Swaziland King’s plan for SADC-wide university of transformation quietly shelved

The plan made by King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland / eSwatini, for his kingdom to build  a new ‘university of transformation’ to take students from across the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) has been quietly shelved.

He made his pledge in 2016 when he was chair of the organisation. He said it would be up and running within a year. He also said Swaziland would pay for 300 students to study at the university.
Now, SADC has quietly dropped the idea. In a move in August 2018 that received little publicity at the time, SADC said it would try to create a ‘virtue university’ instead. No date for it to start operating was set.

A virtual university provides higher education programmes through electronic media, typically the Internet. No details have been worked out yet but it is expected that programmes would be made available through existing universities across the SADC region.

SADC said in a statement the university would ‘focus on entrepreneurship, innovation, commercialisation, technology transfer, enterprise development, digital and knowledge economy, to support the SADC industrialisation agenda’.

King Mswati made the SADC university the major promise of his one-year tenure as Chair of SADC which started in August 2016. 

Both the Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, and the Swazi Observer, which is in effect owned by the King, reported on 31 August 2016 that King Mswati told the SADC heads of state summit held at Lozitha, ‘This initiative will give new hope and opportunity to our youth and our women. The intention is to have the first intake of students prior to the 37th SADC summit in 2017.’

The King and the media in Swaziland that enthusiastically and uncritically reported his statement, gave no indication of where the money would come from for the project, who would teach at the university, what academic programmes it would run, and how programmes would be administered.

The University of Swaziland (UNISWA), the kingdom’s largest and oldest university had been unable to start teaching that academic year because students were protesting against cuts in scholarships.

Later, King Mswati announced the University of Transformation would initially be housed at Limkokwing University of Creative Technology in Swaziland. Limkokwing is a private university. The King did not choose UNISWA, where he is Chancellor.

According to its website, Limkokwing in Swaziland only offers ‘associate degrees’ which are at a level below Bachelor degrees and in many universities are known as diplomas.

The failure to deliver the university is one of many promises the King has not met. These included a plan partly financed from in the oil state of Qatar to build a US$4.8bn ‘world class facility’ that would store at least a three-month supply of fuel for Swaziland. Other plans that failed to materialise included one to build a pharmaceutical plant, a food processing plant, a bottled water plant, a cosmetics plant and a granite and marble venture to create more than 3,000 jobs.

In April 2009 King Mswati announced the building of a multi-billion emalangeni Swazi City, financed by international money and comprising a 25,000 sq m shopping, entertainment and ‘wellness’ centre ‘to rival the world’ creating 15,000 new jobs. 

In October 2010, the Swazi Government, which is not elected but handpicked by the King, announced its ‘fiscal adjustment roadmap’ to save the kingdom’s economy. This would include attracting investment to create, ‘between 25,000 and 30,000 new jobs’ in the private sector. These jobs have not materialised. 

In 1998 the King was said to have teamed up with pop singer Michael Jackson to bring a ‘Netherland-style’ theme park to Swaziland.

See also

Swaziland’s absolute king misses out on AU Chair because his kingdom is broke

King’s new university stalls