Swaziland: In the Court of King Ubu

In a world where abuses of human rights are often government policy, the regime of King Mswati III of Swaziland stands out. Since 1973, the last self-proclaimed “royal” family” on the continent and its enablers have launched a systematic attack on democratic practices, trade unions, press freedom, etc. And what did Swaziland’s grateful citizens get in exchange for the trampling of their human rights? The highest rate of AIDS infection in Southern Africa.

Swaziland is often portrayed as a “garden-spot” destination for tourists and nature lovers. Nestled between South Africa and Mozambique, it boasts bucolic scenery and friendly locals. Left out of the picture is its cheerful despot, intent on squashing all opposition, apparently without protest from the international community.

There is no small irony, then, that Madagascar’s deposed President Marc Ravalomanana, who was recently ousted in a relatively bloodless coup (seven dead, 30 injured), called upon Mswati to help him reclaim power in his country, where he pledged to restore the rule of law and democracy. Addressing the Southern Africa Development Community’s special session on the Madagascar crisis, hosted by Mswati, Ravalomanana asked the king to encourage the SADC to impose sanctions and to remove the insurgents.

Whatever help Ravalomanana is going to get from Mswati, restoring democratic practices is not likely to be high on the list. It’s also unlikely that there will be military action forthcoming to restore Ravalomanana, and sanctions are unlikely to make a difference, unless the SADC can convince the European miners and tourists who flock to the island to stop coming. They have for the moment, but for how long?

If the people of Madagascar don’t force the issue themselves, Ravalomanana will have to stay in Mswati’s court, spinning his democratic dreams for a ruler who clearly has few of his own.

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