Eswatini, or formerly known as Swaziland, a small country situated in the south of Africa, shares its borders with South Africa and Mozambique. Eswatini is the only country in Africa ruled under an Absolute Monarchy with King Mswati III as head of the state. However, this one remaining absolute monarchy state is facing continuous calls for democracy.
What is happening there, and how did the political crisis break out?
The latest protest took place on 20 June 2021. It all started with the murder of a 25-year-old student, Thabani Nkomonye. People in Eswatini suspected that the murder was caused by police brutality, but the police chose to stay silent. This caused uproar in the country. People came out and called for justice for Thabani and tried to appeal to King Mswati III to order a serious investigation over the murder. The fury erupted when the appeal was rejected. The call for justice took a turn and became a protest against absolute monarchy – people are calling for a decrease in the king’s power and for reform of the country into a democratic one. The protesters sought to riots in big cities despite curfews enforced by the government. Many shops were set on fire and a lot of property was stolen. The government reacted to this using tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons. The violent suppressions continued, causing numerous casualties amongst the protesters. Several hundred arrests were made, with that number likely to rise. King Mswati III not only ignored the demands of the people but also accused them of being “satanic” and of “taking the country backward”. So far, both sides still cannot reach an agreement.
Political issues are nothing new to Eswatini. Calls for democracy have been continuously taking place as the country was being held back by political issues, the biggest of which being economic inequality. Two third of the country’s population live in poverty. Most labourers earn just about 180 baht/day on average. The spreading of COVID-19 increased the unemployment rate to 23.4%. People’s impoverishment contrasts with the wealth of the monarchy. The country’s economics are being manipulated by the king’s personal funds, the profits only going to the elites. People in Eswatini have little rights over choosing their representatives, because the Prime Minister and most members of the parliament are appointed by the king—only a handful of the MPs come from the people. Furthermore, political parties are not allowed to form. With all this, people cannot express their wants and needs according to democratic processes. In the end, economic and political obstacles lead the country to endless disorders.
The political situations in Eswatini will continue to stay intense as long as the demands go unanswered. We must keep an eye on the situation and see if this African absolute monarchy state will be able to rise above this crisis, and if the government and the protesters will be able to reconcile. Or, will this be the beginning of democracy in Eswatini?
Written by Nattanon Kerdprakob