Thursday, September 10, 2020

Campaigners criticise UK for allowing arm sales to undemocratic Swaziland

The undemocratic absolute monarchy of Swaziland (eSwatini) is among a list of countries that have received arms from the United Kingdom, the Campaign Against Arms Trade reported.

More than £16 billion (US$20.5bn) worth of arms had been licensed by the UK over the past ten years to countries listed ‘not free’ by Freedom House, the human rights monitoring group, the Campaign reported.
Arms worth £178,000 were sent to Swaziland. Further details have not been released.

However, the Campaign Against Arms Trade website lists two companies that have applied for military export licenses to Swaziland. One was the Safariland Group which the Campaign reported ‘is a US company whose primary focus is law enforcement equipment. Its products include body armour, holsters, and an extensive range of CS gas rounds and grenades under the Defense Technology brand.’

The other firm was Boeing which is described as ‘the second largest arms company in the world’. It specialises in products and tailored services that include commercial and military aircraft, satellites, weapons, electronic and defense systems, launch systems, advanced information and communication systems, and performance-based logistics and training.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said, ‘It has been yet another decade of shameful arms sales and disgraceful alliances. By arming these regimes, Downing Street [London] is sending them a clear message of political and military support. These weapons are not just numbers on a trade sheet, they have been used to empower dictatorships and inflict repression on pro-democracy campaigners.’

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.’

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.’

In November 2019, it was reported that King Mswati III, was investigating buying weapons from Russia. Members of a Swazi delegation attended an arms trade fair at the Black Sea city of Sochi on the opening day of the inaugural Russia-Africa Summit.

Swaziland is a desperately poor kingdom where seven in ten of the estimated 1.3 million population have incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 per day. Military spending by Swaziland, according to estimates published by the  Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), for 2019 was expected to reach US$87.8 million (E1.3bn in local currency). For 2017, spending was estimated at US$88.7 million and for 2016, US$86.3 million.

The figures amount to about 1.5 percent of Swaziland’s total gross domestic product (GDP).
Swaziland which is not a democracy has been criticised for many years for the way state forces oppress the people. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and groups that advocate for democracy are outlawed under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. Swaziland is a landlocked country and has no disputes with neighbours.

See also

Swaziland King investigates possible purchase of military arms while at Russian summit

Swaziland’s massive military spending
Swazi ‘secret arms deal for Iran’
Swaziland ‘becoming military state’

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