Democratic movement must unite and involve rank and file to depose Swaziland’s absolute monarch

“A group of uncoordinated lions will fail to catch a limping buffalo,” says a member of the democratic movement in Roskilde University scholar Bo Karlsen’s newly published analysis of the democratic movement in Swaziland, Struggling to Achieve Mass Mobilisation and Unity.

Bo Karlsen collected empirical data during a five week field study in Swaziland, sponsored by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Here he interviewed leaders from all of the main organisations in the democratic movement in Swaziland – a country that absolute monarch Mswati III has more or less bankrupted and whose population has been devastated due to “poor policy choices” and “heavy exploitation.”

From these interviews, Karlsen concludes that unity and mass mobilisation in the democratic movement in Swaziland are the main goals, but that the main impediments for the movement as a whole in achieving these goals are leadership struggles and value differences between two fractions or wings of the democratic movement. If they united, “they would be able to overthrow the King and his government,” he claims.

However, as much as these two interrelated goals were shared broadly among the organizations in the democracy movement, the goals were only occasionally achieved, says Karlsen.

“There are some deeply rooted differences in values and ways to carry out activities between the two wings in the democracy movement,” writes Karlsen. And the “leaders of the two wings are hostile to each other and are reluctant to cooperate. In the neighbouring countries it has been possible to form broad coalitions. However, in Swaziland the actors continued to focus on what divides and not what unites.”

The two wings, says Karlsen, are made up of the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF), the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and the Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice (FSEJ) on the one hand, and the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO), the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) and the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) on the other – let us refer to them as the SUDF and the SCCCO-wing.

The main difference between the two wings, Karlsen says, is that the SUDF-wing is seen as being more activist, confrontational and prone to initiate and participate in demonstrations.

There are other differences, but these are not generally insurmountable, says Karlsen. “Concerns about the work of the democracy movement were shared [and] they were concerned with the same issues … Often the different organizations are able to meet and agree on the same goals.”

One way of solving the problem, he writes, is to involve the rank and file levels of the organisations that make up Swaziland’s democratic movement, as the rank and file is less prejudiced towards the opposing wing than the respective leaders, and by having an organisation that acts impartially.

This solution has already been successfully attempted by the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC) and the International Research Academy for Labour and Education (IRALE).

The SDC owes its success to its flat and loose cooperation structure, not being involved in the party politics as other organisations allegedly are, “playing the middle ground” and thereby being able to get “both wings together in campaigns.” According to Karlsen, the SDC “has been the sole actor in the Swazi democracy movement that has achieved mobilization of almost all actors in the democracy movement as participants.”

IRALE owes its success to “capitalizing on the more positive approach” of the rank of file of Swaziland’s two trade federations towards the other, each of which belonged to different wings of the movement, and thus helping facilitate the merging of Swaziland’s trade unions into one trade federation, TUCOSWA. “IRALE has been what several sources call the key instigator in the merging between the two competing federations,” says Karlsen.

Whichever way it comes about, however, a more unified approach within the democratic movement is still necessary to make it legitimate and credible enough in the eyes of both the Swazi population – who risk being tortured, beaten up and forcefully evicted if they campaign for democracy – and the international community.

“A united Swazi democracy movement is important to gain legitimacy in the population and look like a viable alternative in the country,” writes Karlsen.  The present disunity, on the other hand, makes the leaders of Swaziland’s democratic movement look too much like the parties in nearby Lesotho, a small former monarchy whose democracy has ended in bickering between its respective parties, in the eyes of the general population.

As for the international community, “the reason [that they stick to vague criticism] is that South Africa [Swaziland’s neighbour and biggest trading partner] and the international society is unsure of the stability of the alternative to the King,” writes Karlsen. “This factor in itself is an important reason for achieving unity in the Swazi democracy movement in order to be recognized as a viable alternative.”

Bo Karlsen is the National Secretary of the Danish Central American Committee. He has Master’s Degree in International Development studies, and has done analytical and administrative work for the Danish Trade Union Council for International Development Co-operation and the Danish Development Research Network. During the last ten years he has worked, studied and travelled in Latin America, Africa and Nepal.

5 Responses to Democratic movement must unite and involve rank and file to depose Swaziland’s absolute monarch

  1. Where is this research published?

  2. Musa Hlophe says:

    As Co-ordinator of The Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations mentioned in the Article I would like to state that Mr Karlsen never interviewed or even requested an interview with me or any of the Coalition’s Senior Staff.

    His statement that the Coalition is aligned with one particular political party is utterly false. We are constitutionally and practically non-aligned with any political party and work equally closely with all pro-democratic parties in their struggle for a multi-party Swaziland.

    I do not know how Mr Karlsen spent his five weeks in Swaziland but simply parroting the views of one group within the Pro-Democracy movement does not reflect the academic rigour or independence of approach that we would expect from someone with a Masters Degree.

    He is right to call, as we do, for greater coherence and collaboration between the pro-democratic forces in Swaziland but the poor quality of his work only serves to prolong the problem that he seeks to solve.

    If Mr Karlsen wishes to correct these oversights our doors and phones remain open to him.

    Musa I N Hlophe

  3. Lungile Mnisi says:

    It is sad that this article lacks facts and its consequence can be lethal for some organizations; both locally and internationally. As a Swazi citizen, who is exposed to the realities in ground feels that the researcher never verified his/her facts and possibly relied on a limited source of information. This report is one sided and not factual in the sense that some organizations are portrayed in a false light. For instance, the SDC is very much involved in party politics, and they have never played a middle ground. In fact, recently the SDC failed in their attempt to host the Global Week of Action and only had a turn out of less than 300 people as compared to the plus 3 000 People’s Parliament the SCCCO hosted (see http://www.times.co.sz/News/76368.html). Here I’m not trying to put other comrades organization in a bad light but only trying to prove the misrepresentation of facts by the author (quoted researcher). There is a lot of false information that one can counter on this article, but for the sake of harmony and to prevent coming across as a divider; one only pleads that researcher must take the initiative to verify the information from their primary sources and not to be afraid to mingle with every organization. I would also propose that in future some members of the general public be interviewed as well.

  4. Musa Hlophe says:

    Dear Mr Kenworthy,

    on reflection it appears that the Coalition’s Staff, did give a group interview to some Danish students in May and so while we have no specific knowledge of Mr Karlsen having interviewed us as an individual, it is possible that he was part of this larger group. So in your moderation of the posts, we would ask that you edit the first paragraph to reflect that.

    We continue to be deeply unhappy about the accusation of political bias of the Coalition. Disagreements are natural and healthy within a movement but they should not be used to as evidence of a split. We consider it sloppy reasoning to make such an inference, especially in an academic thesis for an advanced degree.

    Yours

    Musa Hlophe

  5. M. says:

    Dear Mr. Kenworthy,

    do you have the contact details of Bo Karlsen (email?). If so, i would appreciate if you could come back to me. I will explain you the details. Unfortunately I haven’t found any email address on this blog.

    Best
    M.

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