Swaziland: The Clock Is Ticking
Swaziland: The Clock Is Ticking
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Briefing 29 / Africa

Swaziland: The Clock Is Ticking

Swaziland has been an absolute monarchy for more than 30 years, with a royal leadership that ignores worsening social ills and a small elite that is often openly corrupt. A new constitution that further codifies broad royal powers and privileges is in the final stages of preparation.

I. Overview

Swaziland has been an absolute monarchy for more than 30 years, with a royal leadership that ignores worsening social ills and a small elite that is often openly corrupt. A new constitution that further codifies broad royal powers and privileges is in the final stages of preparation. Political violence is still more talked about than actual but frustration is building. Multilateral African institutions, the EU and key countries like South Africa and the U.S. have been too willing to accept the royalists' line that any change must come very slowly. More pressure from the outside is needed to help pro-reform elements inside the country bring back a constitutional monarchy and genuine democracy that are the best guarantees Swazi instability will not eventually infect the region.

The revised constitution effectively enshrines the 1973 state of emergency decreed by the late King Sobhuza II, which abolished the democratic system and vested ultimate judicial, executive, and legislative power in the monarch. Until that state of affairs is reversed, Swaziland's long, steady implosion is likely only to accelerate.

Opposition to the anachronistic absolute monarchy in recent years has included strikes and demonstrations by trade unions, students, religious groups and youth movements, as well as periodic waves of arson and bombings against government buildings. Nevertheless, King Mswati III and his ruling clan have continued to insist that the people do not want multi-party democracy and have wrapped their hold on power in a cloak of culture and tradition. Political parties are still banned, and the two main ones are divided over whether they should work primarily underground or as best they can within the system. Humanitarian problems -- including the HIV/AIDS pandemic, more than 40 per cent unemployment, and a need for extensive food aid -- are exacerbated by the political deadlock.

The country needs a new political dispensation that harmonises the history, culture and traditions of its people with a democracy based on universal suffrage and popular participation. The monarchy can still save itself if it moves quickly to support meaningful limits on its powers but absolutism should be ended and a constitutional monarchy introduced that is defined by the following core elements:

  • elimination of all vestiges of the 1973 state of emergency, including removal of the king's arbitrary powers over the legislature and judiciary as well as his right to appoint the prime minister and the cabinet;
     
  • legalisation of political parties;
     
  • a directly elected House of Assembly with oversight of royal spending and an elected prime minister as head of government;
     
  • codification of traditional law and its reconciliation with common law, and appointment of an independent judiciary by an impartial judicial commission; and
     
  • civilian oversight of professional security services.

The international community should be much more assertive in encouraging these reforms:

  • South Africa should use its position in the Southern Africa Customs' Union (SACU) to encourage accountable spending by the monarchy, with a focus on alleviating the humanitarian crisis, and encourage Swaziland to accept the African Peer Review Mechanism of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) as a step toward ensuring good political, economic, and corporate governance;
     
  • the Southern African Development Community (SADC) should encourage Swaziland to implement its August 2004 principles and guidelines governing democratic elections and its other relevant mechanisms on democracy, human rights, peace and security;
     
  • the African Union (AU) should encourage compliance with obligations under the charter of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights;
     
  • the Commonwealth, in line with its 1991 Harare declaration on governance and democracy, should continue to provide expert advice, good offices and mediation to promote democracy; and
     
  • the U.S. and the EU should make more determined use of their economic leverage under, respectively, the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) and the Cotonou Agreement to promote democracy, for example by indicating that development assistance and continued trade preferences require serious reforms and that targeted sanctions will be considered if the ruling elite is recalcitrant.

Pretoria/Brussels, 14 July 2005

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