At least 70 protestors have been killed by police in Eswatini in recent months, with several hundred more injured. The small nation in sub-Saharan Africa is the continent’s last remaining absolute monarchy, with King Mswati III ruling for 35 years ongoing. The country, formerly known as Swaziland, was formally changed to the ‘Kingdom of Eswatini’ by Mswati in 2018, further consolidating his long-standing rule.
Protests have arisen in opposition to the monarchy’s brutal regime, which sees the royal family spend lavishly on themselves while the masses live in abject poverty. In 2014, the country’s national budget was shown to have allocated $61 million to the King’s personal estate, including over $23 million on renovating royal palaces and $500,000 on a single Maybach luxury car. The king’s net worth is estimated at $200 million , meanwhile the majority of Eswatini’s citizens live on just $1 per day. 26% of the population are estimated to be HIV-positive, and the average life expectancy is just 57 years of age, making it amongst the world’s worst. Over 23% of the population remains unemployed, with youth unemployment approximated at nearly 50%.
The king has complete control over all bodies of government, with the power to appoint parliamentary positions including the prime minister. Incumbent Prime Minister Cleopas Dlamini was formerly the CEO of the country’s public pension fund, the same institution funnelling taxpayer money into the monarchy’s hands; Dlamini was appointed solely and directly by the king.
Protestors of the monarchy list a wide range of demands, with some simply calling for reforms by the way of a constitutional monarchy with others calling for the removal of the monarchy entirely. Calls to simply be able to elect their own prime minister have been met with violent and ruthless police brutality and government censorship. Activists using social media to organise protests led the king to induce an internet blackout, slowing the flow of information both domestically and abroad. Those trying to organise the protests into a coherent movement, including trade unions and the now-banned Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS), are often arrested or otherwise maimed for coming out against the government.
This repression has made it difficult for an anti-government movement to mobilise, but with the dire socioeconomic circumstance the country finds itself in, the situation is life or death for many of Eswatini’s people. Western powers have failed to condemn the king, and in most cases have completely accommodated for him. Mswati was even invited to Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee lunch in 2012 alongside a host of monarchs with blood on their hands. This situation, like so many others, has dismantled the myth of western powers caring for human rights. The US and UK in particular, who look to persistently call out human rights abuses on countries that stray from the neoliberal economic model, have no qualms with semi-feudal dictatorships like Eswatini. This is because the country, which was formerly a British colony, has completely capitulated to foreign capital, with its entire economy reliant on neighbouring South Africa, and subsequently the west.
The aforementioned Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS) has made demands via their ‘Democracy Now’ campaign such as the unbanning of political parties, the safe return of exiles, the lifting of all restrictions on freedom of assembly, an end to press and media censorship, the holding of free and fair elections, as well as a renewed solidarity to their struggle internationally. Challenge will continue to follow these events as they play out, as well as that of the CPS, now in exile in South Africa.