Last week it was widely reported in the media that the King of Eswatini, King Mswati III, took delivery of a fleet of brand-new top of the range Toyota product, the Lexus motor vehicle. Following this purchase, thousands of Swazi nationals took to the streets, expressing their disgust at this wasteful expenditure. Given the fact that Eswatini is one of the poorest countries in Africa, why does SADC, AU, and UN allow such extravagance or condone such wastage on the part of this tyrant? What justification do these multilateral institutions have to allow this dictatorial-style autocratic governance?
Mswati III (born Makhosetive; 19 April 1968) is the king (Swazi; Ngwenyama, Ingwenyama yema Swati) of Eswatini and head of the Swazi Royal Family. He was born in Manzini, Eswatini, to King Sobhuza II and one of his younger wives Ntfombi Tfwala. He was crowned as Mswati III, Ingwenyama and king of Eswatini, on 25 April 1986 at the age of 18, thus becoming the youngest ruling monarch in the world at the time. Together with his mother, Ntfombi Tfwala, now Queen Mother (Indlovukati), he rules the country with an iron fist.
Mswati III is well known for his practice of polygamy (although at least two wives are appointed by the state) and currently has 15 wives. His policies and lavish lifestyles have led to local protests and international criticism.
Eswatini has been gripped by years of fiscal ill-discipline, government corruption, and lavish lifestyles of the royal family. The nation has been on the brink of economic disaster due to these factors. Under Swazi law and custom, the king is vested with virtually all powers of the state. Despite Eswatini having a prime minister, Mswati holds supreme executive authority over the legislature and courts. The deafening silence of the UN is par for the course considering the lack of action on the part of this Organisation vis a vis Kashmir, Palestine, Rohingya and China and others.
Mswati’s reign has been criticized for its many alleged human rights violations. His regime has been accused of using torture and excessive force to control the masses as well as blatant discrimination against various dissenting groups. His regime has been accused of extrajudicial killings by his forces, along with arbitrary arrests, detentions, and unwarranted searches and seizures of homes and property. His government has restricted freedom of speech, assembly and association, and has harassed activists and journalists. The government has reportedly targeted labour leaders, and activists against child labour, among other groups. The courts took little or no action to punish Mswati’s actions or the officials who committed the abuses.
Yet in contrast, countries such as Iraq, Libya, Syria have had incursions, attacks and destruction effected on them to a point of total annihilation because of allegations of human rights violations. In the case of Libya and Iraq, their leaders have been assassinated. Iran, which has been devasted by crippling sanctions for no apparent reason, has been singled out for destruction. When one asks the question “why”, we are told that it is because these countries pose threats to their national interests and security. However, the truth is that national security and interest is merely a smoke screen and a pretext used to militarily occupy these countries.
He has been accused of kidnapping women he desires to marry, although no case can be brought against him for fear of reprisals. In addition, in the year 2000, he allegedly called for a parliamentary meeting to debate whether HIV-positive people should be “sterilized and branded”.
Mswati has been criticized for his lavish lifestyle, especially by the media. In one report he has been accused of living a luxurious lifestyle while the people of his country are starving. In the 2014 national budget, parliament allocated $61 million (US) (about R900 million), for the King’s annual household budget, while 63% of Swazis live on less than $1.25 (about R20) per day. Following criticism of his purchase of luxury cars, including a $500,000 (about R7,5 million) DaimlerChrysler’s flagship Maybach 62 luxury automobile, he banned the taking of photographs of any of his vehicles. According to the Forbes 2009 list of the World’s 15 Richest Royals, King Mswati is worth a reported $200 million.
In January 2004 the Times of Eswatini reported that the king asked his government to spend about $15 million to redecorate three main palaces and build others for each of his 11 wives. The Prime Minister’s Office issued a press statement saying the article in the Times of Swaziland was “reckless and untrue” and that the proposal was for the construction of 5 State Houses, not Palaces, and the cost was only €19.9 million. Later that year the go-ahead was given to build five new buildings at a cost of more than $4 million out of public funds. In August 2008, Swazi scouts marched through the capital protesting the cost of a shopping spree taken abroad by nine of the King’s thirteen wives. The demonstration was organized by Positive Living, a non-governmental organization for Swazi women living with AIDS. Mswati has a personal stake in a large portion of Eswatini’s economy which is a factor in its below-average economic growth for a Sub-Saharan nation.
As an absolute monarch, he holds the power to dissolve parties, and can veto any legislation parliament passes. I hope there will come a day when these African leaders are held to account for all these abuses they have poured on their people and return this public wealth that they have stolen and personalised for themselves. If not, the people will surely rise against them.
Dr Mustafa Bothwell Mheta is the Researcher and Head of the Africa Desk at the Media Review Network based in Johannesburg.