Wednesday, January 19

What is behind the uprisings in Eswatini?

The Kingdom of Eswatini, the small landlocked southern African country that shares borders with South Africa and Mozambique, has been mired in political turmoil. since May. The country is the last absolute monarchy in Africa.

The death of Thabani Nkomonye, ​​a 25-year-old University of Eswatini law student, at the hands of the police in early May led to the latest uprisings against the monarchy.

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Shortly after the incident, calls for constitutional and political reforms began circulating on various platforms in Eswatini. Petitions were delivered to several positions (local government) constituencies, mostly by young people to their members of parliament, calling for reforms. Under the tinkhundla system, people participate in elections in their constituencies without being partisan.

Three members of parliament, Bacede Mabuza, Mthandeni Dube and Mduduzi Simelane, joined the #justiceforThabani call of the movement for constitutional and political reforms. On June 24, Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku prohibited the delivery of more petitions. The protesters continued to deliver petitions and were blocked by the police. The protests turned violent.

Several lives were lost. Later, the king ordered the schools to be closed. in June 2021.

The deteriorating situation prompted regional leaders to intervene in an attempt to restore peace and stability. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, as head of the Defense, Political and Security Cooperation Body of the Southern African Development Community, sent a special envoy on a fact-finding mission to Eswatini. in October.

He visited King Mswati III in November to discuss political and security developments. They agreed to work closely together to establish a National Dialogue Forum to solve escalating problems.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretariat is mandated to work with the Eswatini government to draft the terms of reference for the forum. Preparations for the forum were scheduled to take place from November 2021 to January 2022 while the king was on his “mandatory annual” retreat.

Underlying causes

I am a historian who focuses on constitutional history and the governance of public spaces in eSwatini. In my opinion, three main reasons explain the disorders.

First, they refer to the unfinished business of drafting a constitution that began in the 1960s.

Second, they are a pure “earthquake”- a spectacular increase in the participation of young people in the fight for political change. The uprising is organized on social media platforms by young people.

Third, the protesters have been emboldened by the pronouncements of Western diplomatic missions, especially the US embassy in Eswatini and the European Union, calling for freedom of political expression in the kingdom.

The crisis is basically about the struggle to reduce the absolute powers of the monarch and to negotiate a democratic model of governance. As the Institute for Peace and Security Studies has done observed, the constitution of 2005:

While the Constitution provides for a Bill of Rights in Section 25 that includes that “a person has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association,” political parties remain prohibited and cannot participate in elections. The king remains the highest authority with powers to dissolve an elected parliament and veto bills.

Unfinished drafting of the constitution

The period in which the constitution of independence was formulated in the 1960s was marked by a battle of conflicting ideologies. On the one hand were the conservative monarchists in the National Council of Eswatini (who advises the king on all matters regulated by culture and traditions). On the other were the progressive forces represented by civil society and nascent political parties (pp. 44-55).

Conservatives advocated for a constitution upholding traditional royal absolutism. The progressives wanted the monarch to have only a ceremonial role. The stalemates stalled the country’s independence from Great Britain.

The British broke the stalemate by imposing a constitutional monarchical regime on Eswatini in 1968. With independence, King Sobhuza II had his hands free to manipulate the constitution.

Eliminated the constitution of independence and multipartism. in 1973 and governed by decree. the Governance system areas, which was instituted in 1978, maintained the rejection of multipartism. It was a fatal blow to the progressive forces hoping to resurface as political parties.

The opportunity to revive multi-partyism in Eswatini came with the third wave of democracy in Africa in the 1990s. But it did not happen.

This was thanks to the political acumen of King Mswati III, who succeeded his father in 1986. Eswatini finally obtained a new constitution in 2005, without multipartism.

Disenchanted youth

The Eswatini uprisings in 2021 are typical “earthquake”- the rapid mobilization of youth for political events through social networks, similar to the Arab Spring 2010. This may be related to disappointment over high unemployment in Eswatini. Unemployment increased by 1.16% from 2019 to 23.40% in 2020. Thousands of graduates cannot find work. COVID has also taken a high price in Eswatini, fueling frustrations.

Amid the angry mood that followed Nkomonye’s death, the three deputies addressed the issue of police killings in parliament. They also demanded democratic reforms, including the election of the prime minister by the voters. The monarch appoints the prime minister.

This message resonated with the youth.

Dube and Mabuza were arrested in July and charged with terrorism and violation of COVID regulations. The state alleged that they had incited a riot against the constitutionally established government. Simelane is on the run.

Western influence

Eswatini is a member of the African Union and SADC and has had their support. He is also a beneficiary of the USA. Africa Growth and Opportunity Act and has received generous EU financial aid.

The start of the riots in May 2021 strained relations with its international partners. The European Union criticized the arrest of the two pro-democracy MPs. That said both represented the voice of the people who elected them to parliament.

The US embassy in the administrative capital, Mbabane, was especially vocal in its condemnation of the monarchy and its support for the protesters. Have criticized the extravagance of the royal family and has requested the repeal of the decree of 1973 that turned Eswatini into an absolute monarchy. He noted that the appointment by the king of Prime Minister Cleopas Dlamini violated the 2005 constitution since Dlamini was not an elected deputy.

The nation’s civil society and protesters could be heard echoing the concerns of the US embassy during the uprisings.

Looking to the future

The uprising is essentially against royal absolutism, which is considered undemocratic. With a critical mass of thousands of educated graduates and rising unemployment, amid widespread exposure to the ideas of liberal democracy, maintaining absolute monarchism is becoming an arduous task.

the youth The movement and criticism from the international community are clear indications of an urgent need to address the fundamental issues causing political discord in Eswatini.

Much depends on the next National Dialogue Forum. Its prospects for success lie in the promise that it will be inclusive and that it will be overseen by SADC. Whether it results in the fundamental change necessary to put the country on a path of lasting social and peace is another matter.The conversation

Hlengiwe Portia Dlamini, Historian, Swaziland University.

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the Original article.

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