Swaziland: King Mswati Regime 'Catastrophic'

Freedom House, the international human rights group, has blamed King Mswati III personally for the 'catastrophic' decline in Swaziland's economy and its standing in the world.

In a report, just published, Freedom House says, 'Through control of Swaziland's economy and national treasury, King Mswati III has amassed a personal fortune estimated to be US$200million. He also controls and uses for his personal interests Tibiyo, a trust fund worth around US$2billion that owns 60 percent of all capital investment in Swaziland.'

The report, Swaziland: Africa's Last Refuge of Feudalism, looks at the consequences of what Freedom House calls, '40 years of dictatorial rule in Swaziland'.

The report, which is the most outspoken denunciation of King Mswati to be published by an international pro-democracy group, says King Mswati has 'absolute rule' in his kingdom.

'The fundamentals of a modern democracy are - for most countries in the world - taken as standard. Even where authoritarianism exists, it is rare for any modern state to place all power in the hands of a single individual.

'There are almost always some limitations on power: No one person can decide everything, do whatever he wants, and take whatever he wants. But, in the Swaziland of 2013, the king is fully empowered to do all these things.'

The report goes on, 'The Swazi king is insulated from public opinion and citizen participation in government decision-making; he is above all laws and permanently indemnified from suits and prosecution.

'No state institutions can alter his priorities, fight his corruption and abuse of power, or challenge his authority to appoint his loyalists to government positions.

'A prime minister exists at the head of a cabinet of ministers, but cabinet decisions must be synonymous with the king's decisions. A parliament exists, but it has no political clout with which to influence the king's expenditure priorities or policy decisions.'

Freedom House says the results of King Mswati's 'absolute rule' for the Swazi people have been 'catastrophic'.

It says, 'Over the past decade, Swaziland's real GDP growth has been half of the sub-Saharan African average.

'With a gross national income per capita of US$5,140, the World Bank classifies Swaziland as a "lower middle income" country. But, this is no comfort for most Swazis. Ten percent of the population consumes nearly half the wealth: 66 percent of Swazis are unable to meet their basic food needs; and 43 percent live in chronic poverty.

'One quarter of Swazis between the ages of 15 and 49 are HIV-positive, the highest rate for all countries. Average life expectancy is 48 years, almost the world's lowest. Yet, for 2013-14, the government has budgeted only US$28million of public funds for health care for 1.4 million people (or US$20 per person).'

The report adds, 'This desperate economic and social situation is the product of 40 years of incompetent and unrepresentative government during which two despots [King Mswati and his father, Sobhuza II] have used Swaziland for their personal purposes while ignoring the needs of the Swazi people and their legitimate rights to have a say in how they are governed and how the country's resources are used.'

Freedom House says, 'Over the past 40 years, a courageous group of civic activists working in political parties, trade unions, and NGOs have attempted to influence the behaviours and decisions of the Swazi kings using a variety of tactics, including participation in government, controlled negotiations and institutions, street protests, industrial actions and international advocacy.

'Unfortunately, their activism has not been able to break through the king's insulation and immunities and convince them that they were in effect destroying Swaziland.

'Depending on the king's estimate of the level of challenge to his absolute rule, he has either ignored civil society's initiatives and demands or cracked down on civic leaders whom he has variously intimidated, arrested, tortured, exiled or murdered.'

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