Don't be mean to Mswati

For a man who's often seen flashing a lot of flesh in his traditional monarchical garb, King Mswati III seems to have very thin skin. Even the tiniest criticism seems to upset him. His sycophantic ministers and cronies have tried everything to shield him from complaints - stuffing parliament with supporters, ensuring all chiefs are compliant, beating up protestors, muzzling the printed media and banning any independent radio stations from broadcasting - but they still can't prevent the rising tide of discontent and anti-Mswati sentiments from reaching his sensitive ears.

Richard Lee's picture

Author

Strategic communications for WWF

March 28th, 2012

For a man who's often seen flashing a lot of flesh in his traditional monarchical garb, King Mswati III seems to have very thin skin. Even the tiniest criticism seems to upset him. His sycophantic ministers and cronies have tried everything to shield him from complaints - stuffing parliament with supporters, ensuring all chiefs are compliant, beating up protestors, muzzling the printed media and banning any independent radio stations from broadcasting - but they still can't prevent the rising tide of discontent and anti-Mswati sentiments from reaching his sensitive ears. Especially on those twin tools of regime-change - facebook and twitter. The answer - ban people from being rude about the King on their facebook pages and tweets.

As the Minister of Justice said (because clearly this is an issue he should be worrying about instead of the serious judicial crisis that the country is currently facing), "We will be tough on those who write bad things about the king on Twitter and Facebook. We want to set an example." And they have. Swaziland is once again the example of what a country should not do. Freedom of expression is a basic right and should be protected. But then again, the Swazi authorities have violated most of the basic rights that Swazi citizens hold dear - so why not add one more violation to the list.

Well firstly because - as many countries that are far bigger and more technologically advanced than Swaziland have found - it is incredibly hard to control social media. And secondly because even if they do manage to intimidate people into keeping their insults off-line, it will not help to salvage the king's reputation. His reputation is plunging not because of what his 'subjects' tweet about him but because of his actions - his exploitation of the national coffers to fund his ludicrously lavish lifestyle, his abuse of the money and land that he controls in 'trust' for the nation, his contempt for human rights and freedoms, and his total disregard for the needs and wishes of the Swazi people.

And here is my final thought (it could actually be a tweet as it is exactly 140 characters): There is a much more effective way of stopping the criticism - reform the system so that Swazis live in a more democratic and open society.

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