26 April 2013

Swaziland: King Misleads On First World Status

opinion

King Mswati III has once again told his subjects that Swaziland is on the way to becoming 'a First World Nation'.

And, true to form the media in the kingdom he rules as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, praised him for telling the 'truth'.

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper the king in effect owns, called it a 'relentless march to First World status'.

The media in Swaziland are biased when it comes to reporting the king. Even those parts of the media, such as the Times of Swaziland, that are not under the direct control of the ruling elite, take an 'Emperor's New Clothes' attitude to King Mswati.

It doesn't matter how ridiculous the statement, or how devoid of any reality it is: if King Mswati said it, it must be true.

In a speech to mark his birthday on 19 April, the king at least recognised that there were hurdles to jump before his kingdom could really be called 'First World'. Chief among these was the level of poverty.

Nonetheless he told his audience, 'I am confident it can be done. We have the national resolve to succeed.'

In the past, King Mswati said First World status would be achieved by 2022.

But, nowhere in the media in Swaziland or what passes for public debate in the kingdom has anyone actually defined what they mean by 'First World' status.

In fact, the term has begun to fall into misuse since the end of the Cold War, but when people do talk about First World nations they usually mean the multi-party democracies who align themselves (some more formally than others) to the economic and foreign policies of the United States. They would include Canada, northern and western Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Swaziland does not have the potential to become a First World country. It is not a democracy and if King Mswati has his way will never become one. Under the Royal Decree made by his father King Sobhuza II in 1973 all political parties are banned. The decree has never been rescinded and no parties will be allowed to take part in national elections due later this year.

Only this week activists in the youth group SWAYOCO were arrested and charged with sedition because they tried to hold a public rally to discuss having political parties at the next election.

Swaziland's foreign policy makes it ineligible to 'join' the First World. By aligning itself with Taiwan (and therefore against the United Nations) it places itself outside of the political mainstream.

King Mswati sometimes says he wants Swaziland to become prosperous like the developed countries. It could be that is what he means by 'First World'.

But, Swaziland is nowhere close to becoming prosperous. In 2012 a report published by 24/7 Wall St in the United States, and based on data from the World Bank, identified Swaziland as the fifth poorest country in the entire world.

It said 69 percent of King Mswati's one million subjects lived in poverty.

Its report stated, '[T]he country's workforce is largely concentrated in subsistence agriculture, even though the country faces serious concerns about overgrazing and soil depletion. While these factors harm the nation's economy, health concerns are likely one of the major factors preventing Swaziland's population from escaping poverty.

'Few nations have a lower life expectancy at birth than Swaziland, where the average person is expected to live just 48.3 years. One of the reasons for the low life expectancy is the high prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS among those 15 to 49 -- at 25.9% it is the highest in the world'.

The king has no answer to any of this, except to distract attention from the true dire situation in Swaziland and mislead his subjects about the prospects of achieving the promised land of First World status.

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