Do Swazis want democracy?
December 6, 2016 1 Comment
New Afrobarometer-report shows that Africans still cautiously embrace democracy. In the small absolute monarchy of Swaziland, support for democracy is low but rising. In many other countries it is falling.
‘Do Africans still want democracy,’ independent research network Afrobarometer asks Africans in a new report? The answer seems to be a cautious and qualified ‘yes’. In Swaziland, a small absolute monarchy where parties are banned and the king appoints the government and controls everything from the economy to the judiciary, numbers are very low but rising.
According to young democracy-activist, Bheki Dlamini, the main reason for the low numbers is the absolute monarch and his regime, who control all land and have distorted the word ‘democracy,’ and the fact that the country lacks democratic precedence.
Less than half want democracy
In the Afrobarometer-report, 45 percent of Swazis polled in the report see democracy as preferable to having a non-democratic government, which is the lowest of all the 36 countries in the survey apart from Sudan, where 44 percent see democracy as preferable.
In neighbouring South Africa the percentage is 64 percent, and in Burundi, Senegal and Botswana, who top the list, the percentages are 86, 85 and 83 percent respectively.
Other figures show that 65 percent of Swazis polled reject one-party rule (compared to 50 percent in Mozambique, 72 percent in South Africa and 93 percent in Sierra Leone); 86 percent reject military rule (33 percent in Egypt, 67 percent in South Africa and 93 percent in Mauritius); and 24 percent prefer democracy to authoritarian regimes (9 percent in Mozambique, 35 percent in South Africa and 74 percent in Mauritius).
Democracy gaining ground
On the upside, Swaziland is one of the countries of the 36 African countries polled that has seen the biggest positive change in favour of democracy in the last 5 years.
24 percent of Swazis polled today said they both preferred democracy and rejected one-party and military rule, as well and a Presidential dictatorship, compared to 16 percent in 2011.
In many other countries, including South Africa, Zambia, Botswana and Nigeria, support for democracy has waned or remained more or less unchanged in the last five years, albeit from a higher level of support than in Swaziland.
A question of land
These are the numbers, polled in face-to-face interviews with a representative number of Swazis, but how are they to be understood?
President of the Swaziland Youth Congress, Bheki Dlamini, who has himself spent nearly four years in prison due to his peaceful advocacy of democratic change in Swaziland and now lives in exile, believes that many especially rural-based Swazis do not embrace democracy because they are both physically and mentally dependent on the king’s regime.
– In Swaziland, more than 70 percent of the population lives in the rural areas, on Swazi Nation Land under strict control by the chiefs, who are an extension of the king’s power. Without security of tenure, loyalty to the chief and the king is important to the survival of a rural Swazi. The only form of security is to not be seen to challenge the status quo, he says.
A question of semantics and parties
Bheki Dlamini also sees the understanding of what ‘democracy’ means as another important reason why especially rural Swazis do not see themselves as democrats.
– In Swaziland, the word ‘democracy’ has been deliberately distorted by the regime, who say that democracy is tantamount to toppling the monarchy, whereas we could have a functioning constitutional democracy, Dlamini says
– 24 percent in Swaziland is a good figure considering the political context people live in. From independence in 1968, political parties have only existed for five years until they were banned in 1973. Swaziland is an authoritarian regime. To compare Swaziland to the rest of Africa is therefore unfair as most other countries allow political parties. They are consolidating their democracies; we haven’t even properly started the democratization process.
‘We want democracy now’
Bheki Dlamini says he is cautiously optimistic about the realization of a democratic Swaziland and that he strongly believes that the potential of Swazis will be unleashed, once they are free to think and express what they think and to form organisations to pursue those ideas.
– The regime cannot camouflage its oppressive nature under the veil of tradition and culture forever. We want democracy and we want it now, he says.