When a king’s right is a fiscal wrong

2011-04-23 20:19

Local and international media have been in an uproar over news that ­Swaziland’s King Mswati III will be ­attending the British royal wedding and that he is expected to take an ­entourage of 50 people to London.

If this is true, and indeed the king travels with a few of his wives, he will get full marks for crassness – 70% of Mswati’s subjects live below the poverty line and the nation is facing a ­serious crisis on the back of a substantial cut in Southern African Customs Union revenues.

Until recently, fully half of Swaziland’s national revenues came from the customs union. With the revision of the formula used to calculate revenue, Swaziland’s share has already dropped from $741 million (about R5 billion) to $281 million in the past financial year.

After three decades of misrule many in the tiny kingdom are fed up. If ­Mswati and his wives undertake ­another bank-breaking jaunt it might just be the straw that breaks the ­proverbial camel’s back.

To flagrantly spend Swazi’s tax ­money on a frivolous trip to the UK would certainly be in bad taste.

Opposition parties have been banned in Swaziland since 1973.

Last week trade unions tried to stage anti-government protests but suspended the mass action after ­several ­leaders were arrested.

While many will quietly tell you that they are disgusted at the king’s ­excesses, they are just as suspicious of the devil they don’t know: political parties that have been banned for so long that no one knows who they ­actually represent.

In a country that is dominated by government-owned media, in which political parties are banned, and those who raise questions about governance and transparency can be brought up on charges of terrorism under a draconian law intended to muzzle citizens, it is easy to understand where this ­suspicion comes from.

Up until this point, the Southern ­African Development Community has had little to say about the excesses of King Mswati. 

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