Several of the wives of King Mswati III who rules the impoverished kingdom of Swaziland are presently on a vacation trip to Japan and Australia that will cost an estimated US$10 million, a prodemocracy group has reported.
In total, about 100 people will be on the trip, the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) said.
The group will be travelling variously on commercial aircraft and the wives will travel on royal state aircraft.
In a statement SSN, quoting 'sources within the royal family', said, 'The sole purpose of this trip is vacation. It is rumoured that the trip will cost R20 million (about US$10 million) in accommodation, travel allowances, air tickets, visas and other necessities.'
The trip which is said to have begun on 20 July is shrouded in secrecy. No official confirmation of the trip has been made by King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, or his hand-picked government.
It is not clear how many of King Mswati's are on the trip. He is widely believed to have 13 wives in total, but this cannot be confirmed as the information is considered to be a state secret.
A group of King Mswati's wives take expensive vacations each year. Last year (2012) they went on vacation to the gambling capital of the world, Las Vegas in the United States.
On that occasion three of the wives were accompanied by an entourage of 55 people. Prodemocracy activists reported they stayed in 10 villas at the cost of US$2,400 per villa per night.
In 2010, a group of the king's wives went on what was described at the time as 'another multi-million dollar international shopping spree' to Brussels in Belgium and London, UK.
About 80 other people went on the trip to tend to the needs of the queens.
In August 2009, five of King Mswati's wives went on a shopping trip through Europe and the Middle East that cost an estimated US$6 million.
At the time media in Swaziland were warned not to report on the trip because it would harm the king's reputation.
Media houses were told they would face sanctions, including possible closure, if word got out. But newspapers and websites across the world followed the story.
The Times of London, for example, reported how the queens went on a shopping spree while the subjects of King Mswati went hungry. Seven in ten of King Mswati's 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty, earning less than US$2 a day.
The Australian newspaper said the king ignored the Swazi poor and the newspaper reminded readers that Swaziland relied on international aid from the European Union and the United States.
The previous year in August 2008 when a group of the king's wives went on a similar shopping spree ordinary Swazi women were so outraged that they took to the streets of Swaziland in protest.
King Mswati does not accompany his wives on these trips. However, he is known to spend lavishly on himself and his wives when he does make trips.
A typical example was in April 2011 when he went to London to attend the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton. The cost of the plane alone to take him to the UK cost the Swazi people US$700,000.
The following year he was back in London to attend a lunch to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. He took with him his first wife Inkhosikati LaMbikiza.
She wore to the lunch shoes trimmed with jewels that cost £995 (US$1,559). It would take seven-out-of-ten Swazis at least three years to earn the price of the shoes.
The cost of the King's five-day trip to the UK for the Diamond Jubilee was estimated to be at least US$794,500.
The extravagant spending came just as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) criticised Swaziland for diverting money that should have been used on education and health to other spending.
As a result of this spending the IMF withdrew its team that was advising the government on economic recovery from Swaziland.
The King is regularly criticised in media across the globe for his extravagant lifestyle, but media in Swaziland dare not criticise him.
At the time of the visit to the Diamond Jubilee the Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, featured a report about LaMbikiza's shoes, gushing that she had received 'rave reviews' from a UK newspaper for her dress sense.
It did not, however, say that the same newspaper reported, 'Guests from controversial regimes include Swaziland's King Mswati III, who has been accused of living an obscenely lavish lifestyle while many of his people starve.'
While more than half of the Swazi population rely on some form of food aid to keep them from hunger, King Mswati has 13 palaces in Swaziland, one for each of his wives; fleets of BMW and Mercedes cars and at least one Rolls Royce.
Last year, for his 44th birthday he received a private jet worth US$17 million as a gift. He refused to reveal who bought it for him, leading to speculation that it was paid for out of public funds.