Swaziland: Time for democracy?
Demonstrations planned for Tuesday April 12 in Swaziland are probably the most ambitious effort yet in sub-Saharan Africa to spark a pro-democracy surge comparable to those earlier this year in Tunisia and Egypt. Economic crisis coupled with the conspicuous luxury of an absolute monarchy committed to repression make the parallels obvious. Over 7,000 protesters marched in demonstrations three weeks ago to oppose salary cuts for civil servants. But the regime has banned Tuesday's demonstrations, organized by labor, student, and civic organizations as well as through social media.
Social media will likely make only a marginal contribution to the turnout, as only 7% of the Swazi population is estimated to have Internet access, with only about 16,000 Facebook users (1% of the population according to http://www.internetworldstats.com/). The campaign does benefit from strong support from Swazi labor, student, and civic organizations as well as by a support campaign in South Africa organized by COSATU and other groups.
With public attention from South Africa, the Swazi regime may hesitate in using open force against the demonstrators. But King Mswati III, who has already ruled for 25 years, is the heir of a dynasty that dates back to 1921. His father, King Sobhuza II, suspended the constitution on April 12, 1973, five years after the country's independence. In addition to state repression and popular mobilization, the strength of traditional loyalty to the monarchy is one factor that will weigh heavily on the outcome.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains several recent articles with background and analysis of the Swazi political system and the planned protests, all from commentators in close contact with pro-democracy groups in Swaziland. For additional updates the most useful single source is the blog Swazi Media Commentary (http://swazimedia.blogspot.com). The site of the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, a coalition of Swazi and South African groups, with supporters in other countries, is at http://swazidemocracy.org/home.htm. For recent news, including a roundup of the demonstrations in March, see http://allafrica.com/swaziland.
Afrika Kontact, a Danish organization long involved in solidarity with Swazi democracy campaigns, has a page of articles in English (http://www.afrika.dk/collection-swazi-articles) as well as much additional material in Danish.
Other recent articles of interest include:
Stephen Faulkner, "Uprising Needs More than Facebook" Swaziland Commentary, April 5, 2011
http://swazilandcommentary.blogspot.com / http://tinyurl.com/3tmctmd
Bongani Masuku, "Swaziland: Economy - Time for Intensive Care" Pambazuka News, April 6, 2011
Mantoe Phakathi, "Swaziland: Middle-Income Status Reflects only King's Lifesyle" Inter Press Service, March 31, 2011
The 2010 Swaziland Household Income and Expenditure Survey, entitled "Poverty in a decade of slow economic growth: Swaziland in the 2000's," is available on the website of UNDP Swaziland (http://www.undp.org.sz).
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Swaziland, visit http://www.africafocus.org/country/swaziland.php
PM's March ban could hit Economy
Swazi Media Commentary
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com / http://tinyurl.com/3nawu6q
The decision by Barnabas Dlamini, Swaziland's illegally-appointed Prime Minister, to ban the proposed protests next Tuesday (12 April 2011) could have far-reaching consequences for the kingdom's economy, according to the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO). Already, Dlamini has been under fire from union leaders for making the ban without any legal justification. In a statement, issued today (8 April 2011), SCCCO goes further and says that the PM's threats jeopardise Swaziland's fragile economy by attacking the basis of much foreign aid and the ability to trade. European Union funding and access to privileges under the United States' African Growth and Opportunities Act all are dependent on respect for Human Rights in general and Workers' Rights in particular.
Below is the full statement.Coalition warns PM on economy and Human Rights.
The Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations expresses its utmost concern at the statement of April 7 by the Swazi Prime Minister, Barnabas Dlamini purporting to ban legal protests by some of its members. The language used in the statement is so at odds with good governance, respect for human rights and common sense that it can only mark a return to the aggressive and bullying tactics that are the hallmark of this government. It poses profound risks for the economy as well as human rights.
The PM's threats further put into jeopardy the country's fragile economy by attacking the basis of much foreign aid and the ability to trade. European Union funding and access to privileges under the United States' African Growth and Opportunities Act all are dependent on respect for Human Rights in general and Workers' Rights in particular. Under the Prime Minister's leadership, the country has been placed on the International Labour Organisation's warning list for its Labour Rights record. Any further abuses of those rights could mean that AGOA privileges will be withdrawn. This then puts at risk the factories in Matsapha and other industries that will no longer be competitive and will close. Without them Swaziland's export industry will further collapse and one of the pillars of the Fiscal Adjustment Roadmap will be gone. Therefore the IMF will not be able to sign the necessary letters of comfort and our access to international development loans will disappear. The PM and his advisors have been warned. It is not the protesters that are putting the economy at risk, it is him and his government.
The Coalition was among those who applauded the mature and measured response that was shown by the Royal Swaziland Police around the March 18 protests and we note that the international community was similarly impressed. We would remind the Prime Minister and the leaders of the security forces that all protesters, whether sanctioned by the government or not, still have rights under the constitution and international law and we expect the Security Forces to respect those rights and restrain themselves to using minimum, if any, force. It is the duty of the security forces to protect all the people of this country, not just the government.
Any breaches of protesters' human rights will be prosecuted through the courts and we will expect the help of the Human Rights Commission. We are prepared to take individual officers, soldiers and policemen to court where they will have to answer to a judge for their actions. We would like to remind the members of the security forces that 'I was just following orders' is not an accepted defence.
Swaziland: We won't be forgotten
Even the youth of the African monarchies are feeling the Egypt effect
To a growing number of Swazi people, the bravery of the people in the north of their continent who have taken a stand against decades of dictatorial rule has meant only one thing: inspiration. Rowena McNaughton, CIVICUS media officer, writes. While campaigning the international press to look to his embattled home nation, Musa Hlophe, hailed as the grandfather of the Swaziland human rights movement, surmised that if his home country, Swaziland, was a business it would be technically broke.
Since its parliament handed all power to the Swazi King 34 years ago - at the time King Sobhuza II and now King Mswati II - the tiny southern African nation has become one of the world's most controlled countries. Already one of the last absolute monarchs in the world, King Mswati II has stretched his power so that he not only has complete power to appoint the country's Prime Minister, members of the cabinet and judiciary, but he has also outlawed the Swazi people's right to engage in governance or, indeed, participate in any meaningful decision making. Widespread control has meant citizens' rights to access information, and even a free press, have been all but obliterated.
There is no protection of the right to assemble, to associate or to speak. He has absolute control over the nation's finances. For Mandla Hlatshwayo, an attorney and founding member of the People's United Democratic Movement, the state of human rights in the country, from which he has been forced to live in exile, is worse than in headline-grabbing Zimbabwe. "We can't even hold a political meeting.
But Swaziland is also a country rich in natural resources. "Of all the countries in this region its problems are not due to a lack of resources," says Hlatshwayo. Where the problem lies is that proceeds of the sales of resources have not gone to priority projects: health and education. Over 80 per cent of the country's wealth is held by 20 per cent of the elite. The King has seemed happy to indulge his privileged family, friends and government ministers to ensure their loyalty. Local people who once were proud of their self sufficiency are now begging for their bread under spiralling costs of living. Unemployment has fueled unrest amongst its citizens as the country groans under a 40 per cent unemployment level and its people become more and more hungry. These people are given promises but nothing they can eat.
But the real breaking point for Swazis is crippling poverty. Only 30 per cent of Swaziland's population of around one million have access to more than $1 in spending money per day. Across the country thousands lie waiting to die from HIV-AIDS. The country has the lowest life expectancy in the world at 30 years.The root cause
The government has been saying to its people that everything is fine. It promises first-rate highways and has pledged to make the nation a shining beacon in Africa by relying on protectionism and sticking to its tribal roots (unfortunately for many, the skewed aspirations leave a hungry populace that can be easily manipulated).
The government's debt is about $900 million, and growing. Critics, such as Sibongile Mazibuko, president of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers, complain that the government ministers, mere puppets of the king, pay vast sums for ostentatious projects intended to make them look good. Joannes Mongardini, the IMF's mission chief for Swaziland, told Swazi civil society that the government had a $50m budget addendum for a new airport project, though the country owns no aeroplanes. It has promised that next will be highways, yet Mazibuko asks: what about hospitals? "Our people are dying".
The root of the problems that ail Swaziland is corruption. While money has been haemorrhaging from the nation there has not been one minister indicted. While 2 per cent of the country's population die each year as a consequence of HIV-AIDS and not being able to access the correct medicine, its government is fixated on saying all is fine. According to Hlatshwayo, Swazi society "resembles one that is suffering the effects of a civil war."Mounting change
Yet a crushing human rights environment and dictatorial rule seem unlikely to squash the aspirations of a rising number of Swazi youth fed up with oppression. Fueled by the North African and Middle East uprisings, the youth and civil society of Swaziland are mobilising. On 12 April the voice of the people angry at suppression and hungry for bread will be heard on the streets of the nation's capital, Mbabane, to demand change. Facebook has been the platform for change. "It's the only legal way we can communicate", says Pius Vilakati, one of the leaders of the protest and an exile forced to live in South Africa. Vilakati says the objective of 12 April is resolute: an end to the monarchy. "We are not going to move away from the streets until the source of dictatorship is overthrown."
Heavy-handed response is likely, since already the police have upped their forces. Human rights activists say the government is passing out guns to the army. Roadblocks are now commonplace and checkpoints are springing up daily. Some say it's an ideal that only the youth have and question the effectiveness of a group hungry to taste what those in Tunisia and then Egypt achieved. Time will tell, but for Hlophe, a veteran of civil movements whose own son has joined the Facebook movement, perhaps it's these words that best guide the future of the country: "It's fair to say that ever since events in the Middle East and North Africa, Swaziland will never be the same."
Africa: Will Swaziland become the next Tunisia or Egypt?
Pro-democracy campaign groups are calling for an 'April 12 Uprising' in Swaziland. Peter Kenworthy assesses the potential impact of the campaign. Inspired by Tunisia and Egypt, Swaziland is the latest African country to plan an uprising based on online social networking tools such as Facebook. The name and the date of the campaign, the 'April 12 Uprising', is symbolic. April 12 was the day the absolute monarch's father, Sobhuza II, declared a state of emergency in 1973 that banned all political parties, centralised all power within the monarchy, and generally set the course for the mass poverty and increasing financial mess that Swaziland finds itself in today.
This state of emergency, and a monarchy that is increasingly out of step with the desperate situation of the majority of Swazis, is still in place 38 years later. The effects of this are clear to all: the regime brutally and routinely clamps down on all calls for democracy however peaceful, two thirds of the population live below the poverty line whilst the monarchy and a small elite live in luxury, hundreds of thousands survive on food aid from the World Food Programme, over 40 per cent have Aids, and over 40 per cent are unemployed.
Those behind the April 12 Uprising campaign, who are all anonymous except for the group's founder, 'Jahings Dada', promises that 'a hundred thousand men' (and presumably women too) will 'march into the country's city centres to declare a 2011 democratic Swaziland free of all royal dominance.' More specifically, the campaigners demand democracy and a (provisional) end to the monarchy. The regime must 'hand over power to a transition government elected by the Swazi people', and 'the king must vacate office immediately and go on vacation' until the Swazi people have decided on the future role of the monarchy. They also speak of wealth redistribution, free education and health facilities, the 'uprooting' of traditional structures and of creating an 'egalitarian society'.
The campaign claims to be 'unaffiliated', that 'all political parties and civic organisations are 'invited to take a leadership role' in the campaign, and that there has been recruiting in 'major centres' to ensure that the campaign is able to be truly national in scope. Several organisations from within and outside Swaziland have already stated their support for the campaign, including the South African based Swaziland Solidarity Network, South African trade union federation COSATU, and from within Swaziland, the Swaziland United Democratic Front, the Swaziland National Union of Students, the Swaziland Democracy Campaign and some of the Swazi trade unions.
Those that I have contacted for this article were cautiously optimistic about the campaign's potential. Thamsanca Tsabedze, from the Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice, calls the April 12 Uprising 'extremely important and absolutely necessary'. 'It has the potential of exerting the necessary pressure on government to concede power one way or the other,' he says, 'and to a certain extent it has already succeeded. A clear attestation to this has been the outcry by a Member of Parliament who also happens to be a Minister that his constituency is infested with people who are talking about the April 12 Uprising.' On the other hand, Tsabedze warns people not to be overly optimistic. 'The numbers might not be that impressive owing to the fact that the April 12 Uprising has taken a more radical and broad approach in announcing itself as an activity that seeks to topple the government. A low turnout might impact negatively because people might not take the mass democratic movement seriously in the future for similar activities.'
Bongani Masuko, COSATU's international relations secretary (and himself a Swazi national) is also cautiously hopeful. 'I do believe that it [the April 12 uprising] will contribute to the advancement of our struggle objectives for a democratic Swaziland,' he said. On the other hand, he insisted that it will take the energy of the democratic movement as a whole to bring change. 'We must not fall into the trap of believing that it is the on-going social networking or Internet sites that have made people aware of their problems and the existence of a struggle in Swaziland. It is the years of hard work, dedication and sacrifice by cadres of the progressive movement, civil society and all social forces involved therein. Every struggle is not an event, but a process.'
Richard Rooney, former associate professor at the University of Swaziland and author of the widely read Swazi Media Commentary, is less sure of the initial impact of the campaign, mostly because of the logistical problems in getting people in from the rural areas, where most Swazis live, and because he believes people are still too scared of the consequences of a large-scale demonstration. 'People are very unhappy that the economic meltdown has started to affect them personally. This has brought them on to the streets. April 12 is about something different. It is the stated aim of the April 12 Uprising Facebook group to 'topple' the Swazi monarchy. It remains to be seen how many people will take to the streets to support that.' He does acknowledge, however, that even though the campaign might not achieve its immediate goals of regime change, it might still 'be the day that led to something else'.
Another representative from within the democratic movement, who wished to remain anonymous, is worried about the lack of coordination around April 12. 'I am not sure that there will be an uprising nor that there has been extensive preparation to ensure a huge turn out.' He did, however, believe that the democratic movement as a whole was well prepared for action in April. 'My colleagues will be coming up with a roll out, if not for 12 April then for some dates in April as it is for us a busy and focus month.'
But whatever the scope and impact of the campaign come 12 April, the regime and those that support it are visibly worried about it. The Swazi senate has mandated the labour and social security minister to try and prevent it, security forces are allegedly searching high and low to try and find those behind it, arbitrarily taking people in for questioning according to the campaigners, and parts of the conservatively inclined and heavily censored Swazi media are busy discrediting it in what the campaigners call a 'smear campaign'.
Additionally, and perhaps more worrying, the Swazi army has been sent for training in Pakistan and huge quantities of military hardware have recently been bought (the military budget is now equivalent to the health budget). 'We are spending a lot on the army but we are not anticipating what is happening in North Africa. The army is there to avoid such situations,' Finance Minister Majozi Sithole told French news agency, AFP. All this is a clear indication that the regime, known for its brutality against peaceful democracy campaigners, is not going to go quietly, however much the campaigners insist on wanting a peaceful demonstration. Many in Swaziland hope, however, that a combination of a huge turnout, good international press coverage, and the fact that even the armed forces and police are beginning to feel the economic problems, will ensure a peaceful and ultimately successful demonstration.
Faceless Swazi Facebook campaign will disappoint without democratic movement
"If the world media misconstrued the 'uprising' to be representative of popular sentiment inside Swaziland, then its flopping would deal the wider struggle for democracy a serious body blow." Sikelela Dlamini, Swaziland United Democratic Front's Project Coordinator, is speaking of the so-called 'April 12 Swazi Uprising,' a Facebook campaign that has received a disproportional amount of international media coverage â€“ not only for Swaziland in general , but also for an event that has yet to happen.
There has been much talk, both within and outside Swaziland, of the April 12 Swazi uprising, a campaign instigated by anonymous Swazis on Facebook and WordPress â€“ not least because it has been inspired by the successful use of Facebook and other online social media in Tunisia and Egypt. The campaign promises that "a hundred thousand men" (and presumably women too) will "march into the country's city centres to declare a 2011 democratic Swaziland free of all royal dominance."
The main coordinative hub of the Swazi democratic movement, the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF), is also planning demonstrations on April 12, however, the day in 1973 when the still-effective state of emergency in Swaziland was declared, that banned all political parties and centralized all power within a corrupt monarchy, that has brought nothing but financial mess and mass poverty to the potentially prosperous Swazi nation.
Sikelela Dlamini insists that we must not confuse the two campaigns or expect a 'Facebook uprising' to bring about a change of system in Swaziland without the muscle of the major aboveground organizations that make up the Swazi democratic movement. "This 'uprising' talk is not an SUDF invention. We are extremely concerned that the 'faceless' people behind it may not even be inside Swaziland, and could therefore not themselves even be directly involved in the hyped 'uprising;' turning the entire hype into a hoax 'campaign.'"
"The SUDF together with its civil society partners will launch a series of rolling mass protests inside Swaziland in commemoration of, and in protest of, that fateful day in 1973 when the Swazi monarchy unilaterally outlawed the Independence Constitution and free political activity along with it, coincidentally commencing on the 12th and stretching to the 15th. Our aim is to force the undemocratic system of governance out through peaceful popular protest in order to begin the process of ushering in multiparty democracy," he continues.
The Swazi regime and monarchy is feeling the pressure from a combination of increasing numbers of Swazi's calling for a regime change, and other countries, especially South Africa, calling for restraint towards such mass demonstrations of disaffection, Sikelela Dlamini tells me. "The March 18th protest marches were characterized by unprecedented calm, restraint, and, if you like, even professionalism on the part of the state security apparatus's response to even sporadic incidents of provocation. My political antennae tell me that the meeting that King Mswati III had with South Africa's President Jacob Zuma made him awake to the cold reality of growing regional and international isolation, should the marchers be met with open confrontation. I even suspect Mswati could be ready to 'negotiate' a settlement if only the progressive forces made the first move. I could be very wrong, I do realize, though."
Sikelela Dlamini and the SUDF therefore welcome any additions to their protests, hoping once and for all to lay to rest the divisiveness that has plagued the democratic movement in Swaziland, and create a massive united front of demands for democratisation. "If the so-called uprising takes off and it is pushed by equally disgruntled Swazis who employ peaceful means complementing ours, we will welcome the added muscle to force Tinkhundla [the Swazi 'traditional' system whereby the king controls government and all land allocations] out. Swazis are increasingly ready to deliver a decisive blow to Tinkhundla in the forthcoming protest marches. So, yes, this could be BIG! We are looking to put at least 20 000 disgruntled Swazis out on the streets of Manzini, Mbabane, and Nhlangano. All indications are we can achieve these numbers if we stay focused, united in diversity, and pooling limited resources together; realizing that our common enemy for now remains the undemocratic Tinkhundla system of governance," Sikelela concludes.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and not do necessarily reflect the views of the AfricaFiles' editors and network members. They are included in our material as a reflection of a diversity of views and a variety of issues. Material written specifically for AfricaFiles may be edited for length, clarity or inaccuracies.