The dialogue that disappeared
December 11, 2015 Leave a comment
In September, there were high hopes in some parts of Swaziland’s civil society and democratic movement that a dialogue with the county’s absolute monarch King Mswati III was on the table. Not least because of pressure from the Commonwealth, the USA and the EU. Three months later no such meeting has taken place and that hope seems all but shattered.
The meeting was to have taken place between king Mswati III, who has ruled Swaziland almost single-handedly for 30 years, and the so-called G15 group, made up of representatives from Swaziland’s civil society, trade unions and political parties SWADEPA, PUDEMO, Sibahle Sinje and the NNLC .
Room for improvement
Former President of Malawi Bakili Muluzi was to have brokered the dialogue, as he had both held meetings with Swaziland’s civil society groups and allegedly formed a personal relationship with the king.
Muluzi had been appointed Special Envoy to Swaziland last year by the Commonwealth due to his heading of a Commonwealth team that had monitored the 2013 Swazi elections.
Here his observer team had concluded that the elections were not credible and that there was “considerable room for improving the democratic system”, and that “legislation [should] be put in place to allow for political parties” who are presently not allowed to take part in elections in Swaziland.
Talks, dialogue or royal lecture?
Negotiations with Mswati were always going to be difficult, as he is an absolute monarch. Any Swazi meeting him is literally on his or her knees when having an audience with him. He or she is only meant to listen, not question what the king says.
On top of this, everyone seems to have a different perception of what the dialogue between the king and Swaziland’s civil society and political parties encompassed.
The EU seemed to believe that there was to be a dialogue about democracy between the king and civil society and Swaziland’s political parties, and subsequently attempted to help capacitate the G15.
The Americans believed that it was too early to discuss such matters and saw it as merely an icebreaker where the king was to meet with a G15 that was made up of representatives of civil society, not political parties.
And PUDEMO President Mario Masuku says he also saw the prospect of a meeting as merely an icebreaker, as this was what he had been told by Muluzi, as did the NNLC.
Level the playing field
PUDEMO, who say that they have been prepared to talk with the king and the Swazi government for decades, made several demands for a meeting to take place to level the playing field if there were to be meaningful discussions about the democratisation of Swaziland. They communicated these demands in the press amongst other things to quell rumours that they were “selling out”.
Amongst the demands was that all political parties must be unbanned, multiparty elections must be held, a new constitution must be implemented and the 1973 proclamation, where the kings father assumed supreme power for the monarchy, must be annulled.
Several princes, governors and court presidents have expressed shock at the fact that PUDEMO dared make any demands to meeting the king at all, as “no Swazi could ever set conditions for meeting the king”, as one traditionalist put it.
This coupled with the fact that the meeting has still not taken place would seem to indicate that the king was never really intent on having a meeting with Swaziland’s civil society and political parties that might actually have produced any meaningful changes.
King must lead
Looking at a draft presentation, prepared for the meeting by one of the members of the G15, one cannot really blame him.
Amongst other things the document starts by thanking the king for his “willingness and openness in leading the nation”, acknowledges his concern “with the development of the country and of its people”, and commends him on his leadership and vision for matters such as the “desire to attain first world status” by 2022.
And even though the document requests the king to “engage in a process of national political discussion on our system of governance towards opening up of political space and the establishment of a system that also enables citizens to have the choice of participating through their chosen political parties during elections by the next elections in 2018” through a “genuine national and inclusive process of political dialogue and negotiation”, such a “change process”, it is stated, must “be led by the king”.
No real pressure
So what does the future hold for the G15-talks that are on the one hand muddled by strategic disagreements on whether to suck up to the king or make demands, and on the other hand seemingly breaking up?
Sibahle Sinje pulled out of the G15 team in November and rumours have it that others might follow, and an advisor to the king, Prince Masitsela, has stated publically that any chances of a meeting between the G15 and the king are now slim.
But an absolute monarch such as Mswati was never going to accept any challenge to his power as long as there is no real pressure on him, and for the moment there isn’t really any such pressure inside Swaziland.
And this is regardless of the fact that the USA have recently annulled the AGOA free trade agreement with Swaziland and the EU look set to exclude Swaziland from the EU duty free markets, and that this, combined with the loss in revenue from the Southern African Customs Union, could lead to a collapse in Swaziland’s economy.
Bridging the gap
Some members of the G15 still believe that enough pressure can be put on Mswati by the population as well as the G15 organisations to force him to the negotiating table, however. The goal is democracy, but also to ensure that the lower-middle-income country that is Swaziland will provide basic services for the two thirds of the population who survive on less than a dollar a day.
“Through initiating dialogue we seek to bridge a gap between the oppressed and the oppressor. An all-embracing open and democratic Swaziland is being built daily by true Swazi patriots who join hands in putting pressure on Mswati to listen. It is dialogue time your majesty, today”, says Wandile Dludlu, who represents the Swaziland United Democratic Front in the G15.