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Thursday, 19 April 2018


Swaziland’s Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) Chair Chief Gija Dlamini says he is waiting for King Mswati III’s command before opening the polls.

King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Although elections are held every five years international polling observers say they are bogus.

Political parties are not allowed to take part in the election and the King choses the Prime Minister and cabinet members. Only a man with the surname Dlamini can by tradition be appointed as Prime Minister. The King is a Dlamini.  

The King is in control of Swaziland ahead of the 2018 election and he will be in control after it, regardless of which individuals the people vote into the House of Assembly.

Political debate is severely curtailed in the kingdom and advocates for multiparty democracy are regularly arrested and charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act or the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act.

Chief Gija Dlamini, himself a member of the Swazi Royal Family, told the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, that preparations were ready for the election. All he needed was the King’s command.

The Observer reported on Wednesday (18 April 2018), ‘He said once the King had given the required command, they would announce the beginning of registration for elections to the nation.’

It quoted him saying, ‘All systems are ready for the commencement of the national duty, and we cannot just announce before we get the King’s command, which will give us the go ahead to announce dates for registration.’

The election process is surrounded by misinformation. In February 2017 the Observer reported Dlamini speaking on behalf of the King. It quoted him saying, ‘If any Swazi fails to register to vote for the upcoming 2018 national elections then they are abandoning their basic right of choosing their own leader, thus hurting the whole kingdom in the process because they would be silencing their own voice because voting unites the kingdom and gives all people a voice and a chance to be counted, but most fundamentally of all, Swazis through voting, have the right to choose who they feel will lead them to the future.’

Dlamini made the comments at a consultative meeting on civic education for traditional leaders at Pigg’s Peak on 2 February 2017.

However, he misled his audience and those who read his statement in the newspaper. The Swazi people have no say in who their leaders are. They are only allowed to select 55 of the 65 members of the House of Assembly, the other 10 are appointed by the King. None of the 30 members of the Swaziland Senate are elected by the people; the King appoints 20 members and the other 10 are appointed by the House of Assembly.

He also choses senior civil servants and top judges. The elections have no real purpose other than to give King Mswati a fig leaf of democracy. The Swazi Parliament has no powers. King Mswati can, and does, overrule decisions he does not like. This was the case in October 2012 when the King refused to accept a vote of no confidence passed by the House of Assembly on his government, even though he was obliged by the constitution to do so. 

After the last election in 2013 a number of groups that had been official observers of the process reported the election was not free and fair. 

The official report of the Commonwealth Observer Mission called for a review of the kingdom’s constitution. It said members of parliament ‘continue to have severely limited powers’ and political parties are banned. 

The Commonwealth observers said there was ‘considerable room for improving the democratic system’.

They called for King Mswati’s powers to be reduced. ‘The presence of the monarch in everyday political life inevitably associates the institution of monarchy with politics, a situation that runs counter to the development that the re-establishment of the Parliament and the devolution of executive authority into the hands of elected officials,’ it said.

The report said the constitution needed to be revisited with an open debate on what changes were necessary.

It added, ‘This should ideally be carried out through a fully inclusive, consultative process with all Swazi political organisations and civil society (if needed) with the help of constitutional experts.’

The African Union (AU) also urged Swaziland to review the Constitution, especially in the areas of ‘freedoms of conscience, expression, peaceful assembly, association and movement as well as international principles for free and fair elections and participation in electoral process.’ 

The AU called on Swaziland to implement the African Commission’s Resolution
on Swaziland in 2012 that called on the Government, ‘to respect, protect and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly’.

Richard Rooney

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Wednesday, 18 April 2018


Public service pensioners marched through the streets of the Swaziland capital on Tuesday (17 April 2018) to protest at plans by the unelected government to ‘loot’ their pension funds.

They were led by the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) with the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) and representatives of other trade unions. They delivered petitions to government ministries in Mbabane, and to parliament at Lobamba.

They want a decision to take their Public Service Pension Fund (PSPF) under government control reversed.

In Swaziland, King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the King appoints the Prime Minister and other top ministers. Advocates for democracy are prosecuted under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

Pensioners fear money in the PSPF will be misused by government. On Friday the King took delivery of an A340 Airbus, his second private jet. It was paid for out of public funds and may have cost as much as US$30 million. The King also has 13 palaces and fleets of top-of-the range BMW and Mercedes cars.

Meanwhile, seven in ten of the estimated 1.1 million population live in abject poverty with incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 per day.

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported on Wednesday the pensioners said the PSPF was ‘now at risk of being depleted by government’. It added they said ‘government will find it easy to loot the pensioners’ money’.

In a separate development, the Swazi Government intends to compel insurance companies and retirement funds in the kingdom to invest at least 50 percent of their funds in Swaziland. At present, the requirement is 30 percent.

Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA) Chief Executive Officer Sandile Dlamini told local media as at December 2017 total assets held by retirement funds and insurance companies were E32 billion (US$2.66 billion), with less than E5 billion invested locally. 

In his budget in March 2018 Minister of Finance Martin Dlamini said foreign-owned banks in Swaziland would be expected to pay 2.5 percent of their annual income to the government. This prompted warnings from the banks that they might leave the kingdom

Swaziland’s economy is in freefall and has been for many years. Government increased Value Added Tax by 1 percent in the budget. State pensions for people aged 60 and over were frozen, but E5.5 million was earmarked to buy the Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini a retirement home. E1.5 billion will be spent on a conference centre and five-star hotel to house an African Union summit.

Finance Minister Dlamini listed a catalogue of problems during his budget speech on 1 March 2018. He said he took his lead when constructing the budget from the King who in his speech opening Parliament in February 2018 commanded his government, ‘to prepare a budget that is based on available resources’.

Dlamini told Parliament, ‘The public sector has grown at a much faster pace over the years creating significant dependency in the economy and compromising growth and employment creation. This has led to the large size of government, increased the wage bill significantly, and limited the space for social and infrastructure spending.’

He added, ‘Government spending continues to outpace its ability to raise enough revenues resulting in cash flow challenges and accumulation of arrears.’

He said the Government owed E3.1 billion to its suppliers for goods and services and it was trying to find ways to find money to repay these debts.

Dlamini added, ‘In recent years, Government has not been able to raise enough revenues to cover the ever increasing expenditures, which is a clear indication that the current Government model cannot be sustained in the medium-term.’ He announced a freeze on all government recruiting.

The cost of food in the kingdom rose 19 percent in 2016 and a further 2.6 percent in 2017. The slowdown in price increases was put down to improved weather conditions for agricultural production after a drought. 

Transport costs rose 9.6 percent in 2016 and a further 3.9 percent in 2017. Communication costs (mainly phones) rose 4.7 percent in 2016 and by a further 0.4 percent in 2017.

Swaziland has been given a B2 rating (on a scale from A – C) with a ‘negative outlook’ by international credit rating agency Moody’s, Dlamini said. The poor rating is ‘due to the financial and economic pressures we continue to face’, he added.

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King Mswati III the absolute ruler of impoverished Swaziland took delivery of his second private jet on Friday amid secrecy about the true cost of its purchase.

The A340-300 Airbus was flown into King Mswati III Airport with great fanfare just days before he was due to celebrate his 50th birthday. 

Mbongeni Mbingo, Managing Editor of the Swazi Observer Group, newspapers in effect owned by the King, wrote on Sunday (15 April 2018), ‘The buzz that filled the VIP Airport was one of sheer excitement as authorities, including those from the King’s Office, marvelled at the Airbus A340-300 which stood there monstrously.’

He added, ‘It was as if it was a statement of its own, the sheer size of this new state aircraft fitting the status of the head of state, and justifying the need for the country to go in search of a plane to cater for His Majesty the King’s international trips.’

King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and opponents are prosecuted under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

It has been widely reported within Swaziland and elsewhere that the 17-year-old plane cost US$13.2 million to purchase from China Airlines in Taiwan. The A340 Airbus is a long-range wide-bodied passenger plane. Usually, it seats 375 passengers and has a range of 12,400 to 16,700 km (7,700 to 10,400 miles). Following the purchase, the Airbus was completely refurbished. With the upgrades it could now be worth as much as US$30 million, but it has not been revealed how much the upgrades cost or where the work was carried out. It was reported on the website CH Aviation that the plane flew into Swaziland from Hamburg, Germany. 

In 2015, Luftfahrt-Versicherungslosungen AG of Zurich, Switzerland, a specialist aviation brokerage company, was tasked with finding insurance cover for the aircraft. It reported at the time the ‘agreed value’ of the plane to be US$15 million. It added, ‘Agreed value at inception will be US$15 million increasing to US$30 million during completion work over the next 11 to 12 months.’

Industry insiders said at the time the refurbishment costs could be more than anticipated by Luftfahrt-Versicherungslosungen, depending on the degree of luxury the King demanded. Plans were drawn up to build a state room, a lounge and a royal lavatory on the aircraft. Similar planes with ‘VIP’ upgrades of their interior were being offered for sale on the Internet for US$44 million.

A special hangar for the plane is to be built at King Mswati III International Airport at a cost of E200 million (US$16.6 million), to house the Airbus and the King’s other plane, a smaller modified McDonnel Douglas DC-9-87, also known as an MD-87. That plane cost US$9.5 million in 2012.

King Mswati has a global reputation for living a lavish lifestyle with fleets of top-of-the-range BMW and Mercedes cars and a Rolls Royce. The King has 13 palaces and he, his family, and their entourage take expensive international trips.  Meanwhile, seven in ten of the King’s 1.1 million subjects live in abject poverty on incomes of less than the equivalent of US$2 per day.

In the week that he took delivery of the plane, Pakistan donated US$1 million to help feed staving children in Swaziland because the Swazi Government says it cannot afford to do so. In 2016 the United States announced it would provide US$6.35 million in drought relief. This was US$1 million less than the deposit paid at the time on the King’s plane. About 300,000 people in Swaziland are still at risk of severe hunger as a result of drought and the government has declared a state of emergency appealing for international aid donations.

There has been no public discussion on how much it will cost to run the Airbus. Swaziland’s economy is in the doldrums and in March 2018 ahead of the national budget the King ordered his ministers ‘to prepare a budget that is based on available resources’. Finance Minister Martin Dlamini said in his budget speech, ‘Government has conducted a thorough analysis of our expenditure in order to prioritise only the most pressing concerns.’
It is possible to make an informed estimation on the ongoing costs of the new plane. This is based on the known costs of the King’s first plane, the much smaller MD-87. Documents seen by Swazi Media Commentary revealed the jet cost US$9.5 million to purchase in 2012 and at least another US$4.1 million was spent on refurbishments before the King took delivery.

In 2012 the King’s company Inchatsavane signed an aircraft management operating agreement with Greek-based Gain Jet Aviation. As part of the deal the King was required to deposit US$500,000, described as ‘average two months operating costs’ to guarantee future payments. On this basis the operating costs of the aircraft would be US$250,000 per month or US$3 million per year. In the six years since the jet has been flying, the operating costs would have reached US$18 million (about E216 million).

The figure set by Gain Jet Aviation was only an estimate. Another estimate of costs of operating an MD-87 is available from Conklin and de Decker, Aviation Information. 

It has set the total fixed cost of the MD-87 at US$1,124,525 for a year. This works out at US$93,710 per month. 

Fixed costs are the costs that have to be paid even if the plane never flies. Among the fixed costs it lists are salaries for the pilot, the co-pilot and the flight attendant.

Conklin and de Decker set the variable costs at US$9,736.20 per hour. Variable costs include fuel, maintenance, landing charges at airports, staff expenses and catering.

The US$250,000 per month or US$9,736.20 per hour anticipated for operating costs might be underestimates for the true cost of flying King Mswati’s MD-87.

Gain Jet Aviation invoiced the Swaziland Ministry of Foreign Affairs US$312,500 for a flight in June 2012 from Tokyo (Japan), to Manzini (Swaziland). The flight was spread over two days and included fuel stops in Danang (Vietnam), Male (Maldives), and Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania). The total flying time for the journey was 20 hours 50 minutes.

The company billed for a total of US$312,500, which works out at about US$14,880 per hour.

In August 2014, Gain Jet Aviation invoiced for a trip that was going to take place the following month over 14 days from Swaziland – Tanzania – Maldives – Malaysia – India – Egypt – Nice (France) – Cameroon – Swaziland. The total estimated number of flying hours was 39 hours 35 minutes.

The invoice total was for US$593,750.00, which works out at about US$14,843 per hour.

In 2015 the MD-87 was impounded
during legal disputes and the King leased jets for his travels. Papers filed in a court in Canada revealed he refused to use one jet that had been chartered for him at a cost of more than US$1 million because it only had one toilet, so, a second aircraft was chartered for him at a cost of US$1.425 million. 

Richard Rooney

Picture: Swazi Observer photograph of King Mswati’s A340-300 Airbus at King Mswati III International Airport in Swaziland.

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Tuesday, 17 April 2018


Taiwan, a country not recognised by the United Nations, and Equatorial Guinea, a nation with one of the worst human rights records in the world, are two countries to publicly announce they are sending representatives to King Mswati III’s 50th birthday party.

Little has been heard from other countries in the run-up to the event. Meanwhile, it is unlikely that any heads of Commonwealth countries will attend the so-called 50/50 Celebration.

King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, turns 50 on Thursday (19 April 2018). This years also sees the 50th anniversary of the kingdom’s Independence from Great Britain. Although that anniversary falls on 6 September, the King decreed both events should be celebrated on the day of his birthday.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen flew into Swaziland on Tuesday and will hold private talks with the King while in the kingdom. Taiwan has been cultivating Swaziland for many years and is a major contributor of aid. Taiwan donated US$1.3 million toward the cost of the 50/50 Celebration. Taiwanese textile firms operate in Swaziland and have a poor record on workers’ rights.
The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported on Tuesday (17 April 2018) that President Tsai Ing-wen would bring a number of gifts, including five cattle for the King. Swaziland is one of only 20 countries in the world that has diplomatic ties with Taiwan. It supports Taiwan’s application to become a member of the United Nations.

The same newspaper reported that Equatorial Guinea Vice-President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue was also due to attend.

Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, known as an international playboy, was found guilty in France of corruption in 2017 and given a suspended jail sentenced of three years. The sentence came after a long investigation by French authorities into allegations that Obiang embezzled US$175 million from his country to buy luxury cars, real estate, and other assets in France. Those assets have been seized. The sentence included a suspended fine of 30 million euro (US$34.78 million).

In September 2011 Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue visited Swaziland. While he stayed at the five-star Royal Villas Resort he had his bag stolen – containing US$2.5 million in bank notes. 

Equatorial Guinea is nominally a multiparty constitutional republic but since a military coup in 1979, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue’s father) has dominated all branches of government in collaboration with his clan and political party, the Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE), which he founded in 1991, according to a human rights report for 2016 published by the US State Department.

He received a claimed 93.7 percent of the vote in an election in 2016 that was considered neither free nor fair, the report stated.

The report added, ‘The most significant human rights problems in the country were disregard for rule of law, including police use of excessive force and torture, denial of freedom of speech, and widespread official corruption.’

Meanwhile, it is unlikely that a head of a Commonwealth country will attend. The Commonwealth Heads of State Summit takes place in London this week. A protest against Swaziland at that event organised by ACTSA (Action for Southern Africa) is planned for 19 April 2018. 

In Swaziland, political parties are barred from taking part in elections and the King chooses the Prime Minister and government ministers. Opposition groups have been banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

ACTSA said in a statement, ‘The Commonwealth has singularly failed to hold the Swazi authorities to account. The Commonwealth Secretariat does not appear to have a strategy for applying pressure on the King. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group must now review Swaziland’s status and the Commonwealth Secretary General must explicitly support this action. The Commonwealth’s credibility is on the line.’

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 A protest in support of human rights in Swaziland is planned for King Mswati III’s 50th birthday. 
It will be in London on 19 April 2018 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit.  
Organisers ACTSA (Action for Southern Africa) said in a statement, ‘19 April is actually the King’s 50th birthday – but for many Swazis the occasion won’t be one to celebrate. Swaziland is deeply unequal and corruption at all levels is rife. Yet those who peacefully challenge the King and his government face repression.’ 
It added, ‘The Commonwealth has singularly failed to hold the Swazi authorities to account. The Commonwealth Secretariat does not appear to have a strategy for applying pressure on the King. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group must now review Swaziland’s status and the Commonwealth Secretary General must explicitly support this action. The Commonwealth’s credibility is on the line.’ 
ACTSA said the protest would be outside the Commonwealth Secretariat (Marlborough House, Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5HX) from 11.30 am to 1.30 pm. Swazi diaspora groups and international trade unionists, among others, would be participating in the protest, it said. 
ACTSA, the successor to the Anti-Apartheid Movement, has a long history of advocacy for human rights in Swaziland. One briefing paper Swaziland’s Downward Spiral: The International Community Must Act Now warned that Swaziland might plunge into a protracted crisis unless the international community, including the UK, applied serious pressure on the Government of Swaziland so that it respected human rights and developed a genuinely democratic constitution. UNISON and other UK trade unionists have also been supportive of the development of a Swazi Rural Women’s Charter, which is discussed in another ACTSA publication Women’s Rights in Swaziland.  
The paper reported that King Mswati III, the absolute monarch in Swaziland, was one of the main reasons why women in the kingdom remain oppressed. ACTSA reported that despite claims that Swaziland was a modern country, ‘the reality is, despite pledges and commitments, women continue to suffer discrimination, are treated as inferior to men, and are denied rights’. 
ACTSA added, ‘The King has demonstrated he is unwilling to change the status quo and promotes multiple aspects of the patriarchal society.’
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