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A Royal Mess

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on October 20, 2021 18:59

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Kingdoms are not always Disney productions of princesses and violins. Harsh reaction to perceived political stagnation has a violent outcome in an otherwise tranquil mountain kingdom.

We all know the story: The King is dead, long live the King. Teenager Prince takes the reins, kicks out evil and lives happily ever after with a beautiful Princess at his side. The recent history of Swaziland, or eSwatini as they prefer to be called, ran a little differently. When King Sobhuza II died in 1986 after a rule of almost 83 years he was succeeded by Mswati II, then eighteen years old. The Monarch is accused of maintaining a lavish lifestyle. In 2008 he was reported to have 13 wives.

Cultural village show. Photo Wikipedia http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

This small country in Southern Africa contains in its verdant valleys relics of human settlement from the mists of time. Traditional culture has largely remained, but a majority of its citizens live outside its borders and the economy is heavily dependent on foreign remittances. Subsistence agriculture and large scale forestry and mechanized cultivation of sugar are the mainstays of its livelihood, and tourism plays a significant role. The pandemic has, however, had a severe impact on the already stagnant economy. Economic control is firmly in the hands of the Royal family and favored individuals.

Over recent years criticism against what was seen as an unfashionable and repressive regime has increased. King Mswati is an absolute monarch, his word is law. The parliament is partly nominated and political parties are not allowed. The Queen mother's Council exercises spiritual and religious power and has an unknown influence on traditional leadership. Trade union resistance and political activism has increased until public protests broke out in June of this year, in anticipation of elections.

Tranquility. Photo https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Arcimboldo

Protests were met by first police and later military action. Social media was shut down to interrupt the organization of demonstrations. After months of inaction regional countries sent envoys to review the situation. There does not seem to be an easy solution in the confrontation between a government bent on ignoring protests and activists who had smelt blood and claim to be fighting a liberation struggle.

At the same time, effective pressure from regional leaders seem unlikely at a time when many would like a more monarchical style. For example, the ruling party's youth movement in Zimbabwe recently called for President Mnangagwa to be allowed further terms of office. Mozambique's ruling Frelimo party, although beset by rising insurgency in the north is accused of having manipulated elections to silence opposition.

Can modern democracy, at present under strain in its Western heartland, bring solutions to a traditionalist people? Swaziland or eSwatini will be a test tube case for Africa.

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on October 20, 2021 18:59

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Source: Al Jazeera

Pro-democracy groups report several arrests amid protests in Africa's last absolute monarchy.

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