‘Obscene’ is a word often applied too liberally in international development, but this really does qualify: news wire service Agence France Presse (AFP) reports that “Swazi King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch, has ordered his impoverished subjects to give him cows for his birthday celebrations this month.” The celebrations are due to cost nearly £0.5m.
Swaziland is one of the world’s poorest nations with over 60% living on under £1 a day, and the world’s highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection. Its population is actually falling as a result. The absolutist dictatorship of the King, who has banned political parties and sustained the longest period of emergency powers in Africa, has reduced his country to a basket case while he has amassed a personal fortune worth over £50m and a harem of 13 wives.
The TUC has followed the lead of regional giant COSATU in demanding political freedom for Swaziland’s people, and we joined in the international greetings for the founding conference last month of TUCOSWA, a unified trade union movement created out of the SFTU, SFL and individual trade unions. TUCOSWA leader Vincent Dlamini will be visiting the UK at the end of April and we will use that opportunity to discuss further action. Already we have called for Swaziland’s suspension from the Commonwealth.
Meanwhile the AFP report continues “Chiefs from the Shiselweni region, where the celebrations will be held, will have to canvas their subjects for cattle to be slaughtered for the king, who turns 44 on April 19, Prince Gcokoma said. … Gcokoma said the country’s precarious finances meant the government did not have enough in the budget to pay for the event, which was cancelled last year due to the crippling fiscal crisis that has left the kingdom struggling to pay wages.”