Hunger In Swaziland? Just Build More Palaces

Swaziland’s King Mswati III took a lot of heat in January when he announced that he was going to begin construction on a set of nine palaces at a cost of $15 million. The palaces will house 7 of the king’s 10 wives.

This comes at a time when up to one-third of Swaziland’s population will require international food aid.

The king is certainly no slouch when it comes to spending while his subjects are on the verge of starvation. In November 2003 he spent more than $1 million to by BMWs for his late father’s surviving wives. What’s food compared to fine German automotive engineering?

The decision to build the palaces in light of the impending food crisis was widely condemned. Mario Masuku, president of opposition party People’s United Democratic Movement — which the king has banned — said of the announcement,

We are angered and embarrassed by the wanton, senseless and limitless expenditure by the monarchist government of Swaziland. [The palace construction] is typical of an autocratic regime lacking the democratic fundamentals of inclusivity and grass-root participation.


Swazi King to Build New Palaces Despite Population’s Hunger. UNWire, January 16, 2004.

Swaziland: Donors condemn palace building programme. Integrated Regional Information Network, January 19, 2004.

Swaziland Government Demonstrates Its Support of Free Speech

About 2,000 protesters turned out to highlight the lack of democracy in Swaziland in August. Swaziland was being visited at the time by heads of state as part of an international conference on sustainable development.

Swaziland made the protesters’ point for them by using what the BBC described as “heavily armed paramilitary police and soldiers [who] fired tear gas canisters and rubber bullets to disperse” the crowd.

Of course the sustainable development conference included such stalwart supporters of democracy as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe — perhaps Mugabe was taking notes on Swaziland’s technique for later application back home.


Swazi protesters and police clash. The BBC, August 13, 2003.

Why Africa Starves

On April 9, 2003, two separate news stories appeared on the United Nations Integrated Regional INformation Networks which really summed up everything that is currently wrong with Africa. Both stories concerned events in Swaziland and the dueling headlines went like this,

Below Normal Harvest Expected

New Attempt to Muzzle the News Media

The first story, of course, dealt with Swaziland’s disastrous hunger situation. With severe crop failure likely, close to 1/3rd of Swaziland’s 1 million population will require food assistance this year to survive. Swaziland national disaster team chairman Ben Nsibandze was quoted by The Swaziland Times as saying,

We see as a result of all this, a poverty, hunger and disease situation that is progressively getting worse, as victims are deprived of all their coping mechanisms. We see the Swazi extended family structure collapsing as a result of family members failing to take care of their [HIV] infected and affected relatives. We see an increase in child-headed families, large numbers of orphans cared for by elderly and sometimes destitute grandparents, chronic malnutrition, children being taken out of school because of the absence of financial means to support them.

The obvious way to alleviate that sort of situation, of course, is censorship. Under new laws announced by Swaziland’s Minister of Information Abednego Ntshangase, state-owned media would be even further censored. Ntshangase told Swaziland’s legislature,

The national television and radio stations are not going to cover anything that has a negative bearing on government . . . This is not to say that the issues some describe as controversial will be untold. Statements on these will be released by the prime minister’s office.

Ah yes, all the news the government deems fit to report. The UNIRIN quoted an unnamed source as saying,

In fact, we are worried that stories like the food shortage will be censored from the national news, because it showed government was unprepared, and it raised questions about government land policy. Government holds a monopoly on radio and TV in the kingdom, so if the news is censored, most people will be uninformed about matters that affect their lives.

Illiberalism and starvation walking hand and hand in Africa yet again.


New attempt to muzzle the news media. UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, April 9, 2003.

Below normal harvest expected. UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, April 9, 2003.

Food Shortages Abate — Except In Zimbabwe

The World Food Program reports that food shortages are coming to an end in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia, but such problems continue to worsen in Zimbabwe.

James Morris, head of the World Food Program, told The New York Times,

A serious humanitarian disaster has been averted. Food has been put in place over the last several months in such a way that mass starvation and death has not occurred. We’re seeing significant progress in Malawi and Zambia. We don’t have that same optimism in Zimbabwe.

In Zimbabwe, the WFP’s estimate of the numbers of people facing food shortages jumped to 7.2 million in December, up from 6.7 million in August.


African food shortages ending everywhere except in Zimbabwe. Rachel L. Swarns, The New York Times, January 31, 2003.

Lawsuit Against King of Swaziland

Swaziland is the last country in Africa that maintains an absolute monarchy, and King Mswati III takes his absolute ruler position very seriously. Among other things, he continues a longstanding tradition of the king picking multiple girls each year as potential wives. The girls are then forced to the royal court where Mswati eventually takes one as a wife. The others are offered to lesser royal figures as wives.

But Lindiwe Dlamini, a single mother living in central Swaziland, has filed a lawsuit in Swaziland claiming that this tradition amounts to little more than kidnapping among other things.

Dlamini’s daughter, Zena Mahlangu, 18, was taken by the King’s courtiers during an annual Reed Dance ceremony in September. Mahlangu was one of four women selected by the King and required to return to the royal court for training as potential wives.

“My right to custody of my child will have been unlawfully infringed, and Zena’s right to liberty, privacy and protection from abuse will have been breached,” Dlamini said.


Mother challenges King over girl’s ‘abduction’. Michael Dynes, Times (UK), October 21, 2002.

Case against King Mswati III goes to court. SABCNews.Com, October 21, 2002.

Measles Vaccination Works in the Developing World

A study published this month in The Lancet should settle once and for all whether or not vaccination of disease is a worthwhile goal to achieve in the developing world. There has been some skepticism over whether or not poor nations possessed the infrastructure to carry out large scale vaccination programs.

The study looked at World Health Organization efforts to vaccinate for measles in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South AFrica, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

Over four years, WHO and national health agencies vaccinated almost 24 million children in those seven countries. The study found that as a result of the vaccination programs, total cases of measles in those countries fell from 60,000 in 1996 to less than 200 in the year 2000. Total deaths dropped from 160 in 1996 to zero in 2000.

Vaccination can work even in extremely poor countries.


Measles vaccine’s African success story. Corrine Podger, The BBC, May 3, 2002.