Swaziland: King, the First World and Democracy

King Mswati III has told his subjects in Swaziland that his kingdom will reach 'First World' status within eight years, by 2022.

But, he has declined to say what he means by this.

The King has been talking about Swaziland becoming a 'First World' nation for some years, but since the national election in the kingdom in September 2013 and the king's appointment of a new government, the topic has gained momentum in Swazi media.

The King may regret that he has not defined clearly what he means by 'First World status' as he has left room for his subjects to advocate for democratic changes within his kingdom.

The concept of the 'First World' nation is a little outdated. During the time of the Cold War, following the Second World War, the 'First World' nations were generally considered to be those that supported the United States, against the Soviet Union and the 'communist bloc'. In the past 20 years or so, since the 'fall' of the Soviet Union, the term 'First World' has begun to fall into disuse.

There are many modern-day definitions of 'First World', but they all insist that to be included in this category a nation must be a multi-party democracy and people must be able to elect and dismiss their government.

Swaziland is not like this. King Mswati III rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the king chooses the Prime Minister and government. There is no way for the people to either elect or dismiss the King's government.

Some of King Mswati's subjects have realised this and over the past few weeks the Times of Swaziland group of newspapers have been carrying readers' letters and commentaries pointing out 'First World' status cannot be achieved without a movement towards democracy.

King Mswati has no intention of allowing this to happen and he continues to keep a firm grip on any public dissent in his kingdom.

Another 'definition' of 'First World' speaks to prosperity and the health of the nation's economy. 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'.

King Mswati does little to address this situation. Instead, he tries to distract attention from the true dire situation in Swaziland and mislead his subjects about the prospects of achieving 'First World' status. However, there are some small indications in Swaziland that his subjects are not going to let him get away with it.

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