No compromise for King Mswati

By Richard Lee | October 29th, 2013
OSISA's blog on the good and the bad and the ugly
OSISA's blog on the good and the bad and the ugly

Buoyed by the unprecedented criticism of Swaziland’s recent elections by the African Union, SADC and the Commonwealth, some optimists believed that this might be a turning point, that King Mswati might consider a more conciliatory – even reform-minded – approach. No such luck.

Instead, he re-appointed Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini as the country’s Prime Minister – giving the two-fingered salute to everyone who has called for Swaziland’s absolutist monarchical system to change.

In a single gesture, Mswati demonstrated his contempt for all those regional bodies and – far more importantly – his utter disregard for the rights of his people, for good governance and for the rule of law.

Not that it was unexpected since the King had already appointed Sibusiso to parliament – either because he does not deign to stand for election or (more likely) because he knew that he would not win a seat. Indeed, Swazis called for him and his entire Cabinet to be axed last year, as did parliament, which passed a vote of no confidence in his government.

But his re-appointment is still a shock – and bound to send shivers down the spines of all those who are campaigning for reform.

Picked by the King back in 2008, Dlamini has more than lived up to his reputation as the monarch’s strong-man with his iron-fisted approach to government and particularly his brutal suppression of all forms of opposition to ‘monarchial democracy’ – the new name for the country’s undemocratic, absolutist Tinkhundla system.

Infamously, Dlamini threatened to beat dissenters – and indeed foreigners intent on ‘destabilising’ Swaziland – on their feet with spikes. While this threat was never carried out, his security forces certainly resorted to violence against innocent protestors and activists with gay and vicious abandon.

And he also used a host of other tricks, including banning the only workers' federation, the Trade Union Congress (TUCOSWA) in 2012 when it hinted that it would mobilise citizens to protest against the undemocratic nature of the elections - the most recent of which were held in September without - as has been the case for 40 years - the participation of political parties.

And there is absolutely nothing to suggest that his mandate will be any different – first and foremost, he will be expected to ensure regime security.

And that is the real cause for concern. Because Dlamini – although I should call him Sibusiso as every Prime Minister in Swaziland’s history has been a Dlamini – has been at the helm (well as much of the helm as King Mswati allows him to hold) as Swaziland has sunk into perpetual crisis. Or rather perpetual crises – food, economic, social, judicial. All of which stem from the overriding governance crisis.

He has shown no ability – or even desire – to tackle these multiple crises and there is no indication that he has changed his tune. Indeed, by reappointing Sibusiso, the King has shown in no uncertain terms what his priorities are – maintain the ruling status quo regardless of the cost that Swazis will have to bear.

King Mswati had the chance to signal a new direction, to begin to chart a way forward that would benefit all Swazis. Instead, he has opted to stick with his elite clique, protected by his increasingly-expensive security forces – to continue to live off his country, while one million Swazis struggle to survive.

South Africa, SADC and the AU should condemn this appointment and the direction that Mswati is leading his country – towards economic and social collapse. But they won’t. Instead, they will simply sit by and watch as Swaziland sinks into a deeper and deeper crisis.

And Mswati knows that – which is why he knew he could get away with reappointing Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini.

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