Thursday, December 14, 2017


Why Bother with a Country Like Swaziland?

ACTSA (Action for Southern Africa) Swaziland is a small country but that does not make it unimportant. The international community should apply serious pressure on the King’s regime so that it respects human rights and develops a genuinely democratic constitution. 

By Sunit Bagree, Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA),13 December 2017

Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan are experiencing some of the worst human rights crises in Africa, writes Sunit Bagree of Action for Southern Africa. In all three countries, civilians are constantly and deliberately targeted by belligerents. Countries where civilians are not getting systematically burnt, shot or blown up tend to get much less attention – even if serious human rights violations are still taking place. And if these countries are small then they are hardly ever spoken about.

Take Swaziland, whose ruler, King Mswati III, is Africa’s last absolute monarch. As my organisation, Action for Southern Africa, outlined in a paper published last year, civil and political rights are consistently denied in the country. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections, the largest opposition party is proscribed under anti-terrorist legislation, and the King has a firm grip on the government and judiciary. Swazi political activists and human rights defenders frequently endure harassment, threats and violence. The latest (November 2017) Mo Ibrahim Foundation Index of African Governance confirms this analysis, placing Swaziland 50th out of 54 countries for ‘participation and human rights’.

Moreover, as a result of mismanagement and corruption, the economy is in a dire state. An estimated 64% of the population lives below the poverty line, and a recent study by the Brookings Institution names Swaziland the most unequal country in the world in terms of income distribution. On top of this, Swazis face the world’s highest HIV/AIDS prevalence. Yet the King does not seem to want to give up his taste for palaces, private jets, sports cars and expensive shopping trips.

Certain laws and cultural norms severely discriminate against women and girls. As a result, many of them face social, economic and political marginalisation. Some women are trying to organise and mobilise to claim their rights, but they receive little support from external actors. Indeed, the international community has not sufficiently engaged with authoritarianism and human rights abuses in Swaziland. Unsurprisingly, this often leads progressive forces within the country to believe that Western countries and multilateral institutions condone the actions of the King and the elites close to him.

At times, foreign actors have actually caused harm. For example, inviting Mswati III to the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebratory lunch in 2012 conveyed the impression that the UK endorsed the Swazi monarch. The following year, a Commonwealth observer mission monitoring Swaziland’s elections recommended that the constitution be revisited, which was ironic considering that the Commonwealth helped the country to develop its undemocratic constitution in the previous decade. As for the European Union (EU), its aid to the country has long been criticised for lacking political nous and as a result providing opportunities for the Government of Swaziland to ignore its obligations to its citizens.

It is true that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) have done little to challenge Swaziland’s ruler. Appallingly, Mswati III was even the chairperson of SADC until recently. Yet this is no excuse for democratic nations outside of Africa or multilateral institutions that advocate democracy to ignore their responsibilities. Only 7% of Swazis feel free to join any political organisation according to a survey published at the end of last year. The international community should offer greater financial, technical and diplomatic support to those within the country who are seeking to build a strong and united movement to transform their society in favour of democracy and human rights.

In addition, the likes of the UK, Commonwealth and EU need to apply significant external pressure on the King to complement internal action for change. For example, if the EU was to withdraw Swaziland’s trade preferences as the US has done (although it is disappointing that the US may soon reverse this decision), it would send a powerful message to the regime. Similarly, subjecting Swaziland to international monitoring and accountability mechanisms, such as the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group and the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council, would help to keep Swaziland in the spotlight.

The UK and wider international community tend to start paying serious attention to countries that they perceive to be ‘unstrategic’ only after things have become really bad in those countries. This is both morally wrong and unpragmatic. Swaziland is a small country but all of its approximately 1.4 million people deserve leaders that are elected and accountable just as much as anyone. And if Swaziland descends into a full-blown crisis then the cost to the region and beyond will be huge compared to what can and should be done now.

Sunit Bagree is Senior Campaigns Officer at Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA)

See also



Wednesday, December 13, 2017


Public perception in Swaziland is that corruption within  Government is ‘rife’, according to a new survey just published.

About 79 percent of 3,090 people interviewed said this in a survey conducted by the Swazi Ministry of Justice and Constitution Affairs through the Anti-Corruption Commission.

The Observer on Saturday newspaper (9 December 2017) published some of the survey’s results. It said, ‘Within the private sector and chiefdoms the respondents agreed that there were elements of corruption there, 36 percent and 29 percent concurred respectively.’

It added, ‘The survey states that the rural councils, bobandlancane (imiphakatsi) is where the corruption is perceived to be. 

‘The report states that perceived major causes of corruption are poverty (58 percent), unemployment (54 percent) and greed (41 percent). 

‘It is agreed that corruption comes in these following forms; giving and receiving bribes is high at 73 percent, abuse of power at 66 percent, misuse of public funds at 44 percent and misuse of public assets and facilities is at 40 percent. 

The survey said that corruption was also evident in education, transportation, civic groups, town councils, manufacturing, construction and the media. 

Corruption in Swaziland is not new. In June 2017, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) reported the kingdom, which is ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, was riddled with corruption in both private and public places.

It said, ‘The results of grand corruption are there for all to see in the ever increasing wealth of high-level civil servants and officers of state.’ 

It added, ‘For a long time the police, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade as well as the Department of Customs and Excise have often been implicated in corrupt practices.’

It gave many examples including the case of the government propaganda organisation Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service (SBIS) where E 1.6 million (US$120,000) was paid to service providers for the maintenance of a machine that was neither broken nor in use.  The officer who authorised the bogus job cards has since been promoted and transferred to another government department. 

The report called The effectiveness of anti-corruption agencies in Southern Africa stated, ‘This type of behaviour is common albeit covert and therefore difficult to monitor as goods and services are undersupplied or rerouted for personal use. The results of grand corruption are there for all to see in the ever increasing wealth of high-level civil servants and officers of state.’

It added, ‘It has been suggested that Swaziland has no less than 31 millionaires who are junior government officials. In 2005, the then minister of finance Majozi Sithole estimated that corruption was costing the Swazi economy approximately E40 million a month.’

See also




Tuesday, December 12, 2017


Soldiers in Swaziland have once again been accused of sexually assaulting women at the kingdom’s border posts.

The latest accusation also says they are charging people to cross at informal border crossings into South Africa.

The Observer on Saturday reported (9 December 2017), ‘The army troops have been accused by women of abusing their powers by touching them inappropriately as they lay their hands on their buttocks just to allow to cross either to South Africa or into Swaziland. 

‘Some women when being searched for illegal goods alleged that they are touched almost everywhere by the male army officers and these informal crossings.’

The newspaper said the inappropriate behaviour takes place ‘almost every day’ around the Ngwenya informal crossing. 

A spokesperson for the Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force (the official name for the Swaziland army) denied the allegations.

This was the latest in a number of recent reports of Army misbehaviour at borders. 

In July 2017 soldiers reportedly forced a bus-load of passengers to strip naked after it crossed the Mhlumeni Border Gate into Mozambique. Local media reported it happens all the time. 

The Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, reported they were ordered to strip ‘stark naked’ as part of a ‘routine body search’. The newspaper said the passengers had been on vacation in Mozambique.

In June 2017 it was reported women at the informal crossing situated next to the Mananga Border Gate with South Africa were made to remove their underwear so soldiers could inspect their private parts with a mirror. The Swazi Army said it happened all the time.

Soldiers were said to be searching for ‘illegal objects’ using a mirror similar to that used to inspect the underside of cars.

See also