Swaziland assumes the chairmanship of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for the first time ever on Wednesday, despite protests from within Swaziland and abroad that the small absolute monarchy is not fit to chair the organisation.
The charter of the SADC is clear that member states should observe basic human rights such as the right to strike and gender equality, and one of the main objectives of SADC is to support “regional integration, built on democratic principles”, something that SADC’s new chair Swaziland clearly does not.
Suppression, torture and lack of rights
In fact, American research NGO Freedom House ranks Swaziland as the least free country of the 15 members of SADC, in regard to political rights and civil liberties, below countries such as DRC Congo, Angola and Zimbabwe.
Swaziland is the only SADC country where political parties are banned from taking part in elections. King Mswati chooses the prime minister and government and has the last say on legal and financial matters. Nevertheless, Mswati told SADC leaders at an SADC Plenary Assembly Session held in June that Swaziland was a “democracy”.
In their latest annual reports, Amnesty International speaks of Swaziland’s “suppression of dissent”, politically motivated trials” and “torture in police custody” and Human Rights Watch of “draconian legislation” and “severe restrictions on civil and political rights”.
Protests against ‘stronghold of dictators’
The media in Swaziland are more or less being ordered to praise the “great achievement” of Swaziland leading SADC for the first time, as were the Swazi population at the recently held Sibaya “People’s Parliament”, where Mswati urged his people to be “respectful” during the summit and ordered that “Emanyeva” [thorns] should be uprooted before the summit so they did not “disturb” the SADC guests.
But several protests have nevertheless been voiced against Swaziland’s chairmanship of SADC and hosting of the 36th SADC Head of States summit starting on August 17. Both in regard to human rights issues and the reports of King Mswati spending in the region of R40-million on the summit while over a quarter of the Swazi population are affected by the drought, with some beginning to die of starvation.
Lucky Lukhele from the Swaziland Solidarity Network, in comments made to the African News Agency, said that the last thing SADC needed was a chair who made the region “look like a stronghold of dictators” that would institutionalise dictatorship across the region.
Mario Masuku, the president of the banned pro-democracy party the People’s United Democratic Movement, said that they were lobbying SADC member states against Mswati and that there were plans to launch protests during the summit.
Abusing public resources while people starve
Swaziland takes over the chairmanship from Botswana, a multiparty democracy and one of SADC’s more human rights-friendly nations, and criticism of the Swazi chairmanship has been especially strong from Gaborone.
Both political leaders and union leaders have said that Swaziland’s King Mswati III should not have taken the chairmanship of the SADC because he is “a dictator”.
It is “a matter on great concern to us”, Vice President of the Botswana Congress Party Kesitegile Gobotswang told the Botswana Guardian, “because the country [Swaziland] has thus far refused to embrace the values of democracy. This is an indication that the regional body [SADC] is not committed to democratic values”.
“Mswati does not qualify to hold that position at all … he is a corrupt leader who sees nothing wrong with abusing public resources while people starve,” added the President of the Botswana People’s Party, Motlatsi Malapis. DM
Peter Kenworthy is a writer and sociologist who has written extensively on Swaziland.
Photo: Swatziland’s King Mswati III seeks investment from Taiwan as he meets with Taiwan business leaders at a forum in Taipei, Taiwan, 21 May 2015. EPA/DAVID CHANG
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