The people of Zambia and eSwatini need to keep a close eye on this nefarious cabal which has evolved, writes Black Mamba.
THERE is a common thread that appears to perniciously manifest itself in the conduct and general disposition of most African presidents. Once in power, no matter the pathway, they begin to act analogous to royals – they suddenly perceive themselves as “royal presidents”, grabbing control of the national levers of wealth, the public procurement system, resource and mineral endowments and building patronage networks aimed at consolidating power.
In a blink of an eye, they move into state house, assemble a beastly fleet of fast cars with blue lights and security detail in tow – they have arrived and their intention is to stay in power permanently, like kings! These leaders – a majority of whom are men – seek and gain public office with a warped, corrupt and kleptocratic ethos, which is all about self-enrichment and aggrandisement.
This is a grave problem in many respects, especially if one is to consider that such a metamorphosis – so soon after they taste the trappings of power – they quickly becomes not just any “royal” but “executive royals” with power that only King Mswati III of the recently unilaterally renamed Kingdom of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) has.
This is power that allows him to virtually own and control everything and anything that matters in eSwatini from the political, legislative and judicial instruments and institutions of state, mineral and land rights, shares in telecoms, real estate, the hotel industry, retail, automotive – it is an endless list!
Small wonder then that he is able to publicly gloat about the acquisition of a second private jet, hold lavish parties, name colossal vanity public infrastructure after himself and wear glittering diamond encrusted wristwatches and suits for his birthday party.
Meanwhile, eMaSwati carry the burden of high taxes, high fuel and electricity tariffs, high user levies for public documents and services, poor healthcare and education, a general collapse of service delivery as well as acute haemorrhaging of the economy with massive job losses and sky-rocketing unemployment.
The difference is Mswati’s continued grip on power is largely a consequence of his being a monarch. He comes from one of the oldest monarchical lineages in recent African history. It may be correctly observed that eMaSwati are in much deeper governance problems given their permanent albatross around their overtaxed necks.
Unlike the presidents, Mswati does not have to worry about a term of office; his tenure is determined by life itself. The longer he lives, eMaSwati are stuck with him and his bloated parasitic family. The case of eSwatini represents a classic combination of an evil, outdated political system and a king gone rogue.
Whereas the institution of the monarchy is not traditionally and historically meant for his exclusive benefit, under his rule it has degenerated to become a monstrous system of oppression where citizenship does not exist – everyone is a subject, and everything belongs to his majesty.
This cannot be right, or just. Surely, it should give us reason to pause and reflect on whether or not our people still need the monarchy as a system of government. One has to wonder, and hope that a day shall perhaps dawn in the immediate future where eMaSwati awaken from their slumber and begin to address this tragic state of affairs. Nothing quite beats the currency of time, and the force of an idea whose time has come.
Royal presidents are a breed altogether. Incumbents have adeptly developed a thick skin to ignore public criticism for wrongdoing, corruption, under-performance and their unconstitutional stranglehold on power. We see this in Equatorial Guinea, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and many other African countries including Rwanda. Do not be fooled by the two-faced Paul Kagame, he is part of the lot!
These “royals” use a combination of patronage, propaganda, token benevolence, brute force and the decimation of the media and human rights defenders, alignment to imperialist forces as well as the violent crushing of political dissidents using the state security apparatus to cling to power – by hook or crook, as it were. They seem to share notes and forge alliances across the region and continent. How does one explain, for example, that the security forces from Equatorial Guinea are trained in eSwatini – a country whose police have a record of using torture and unorthodox degrading means to investigate crimes, counter progressive and pro-democracy forces as well as peddle illicit drugs, especially dagga?
Recently, news emerged from Lusaka about “Royal President” Edgar Lungu’s imminent plans to build a massive mansion is eSwatini. Never mind that he became president by accident, his tenure has seen one of southern Africa’s most stable democracies plummet to an abyss of democratic recession.
It’s reported that the land on which this extravagant villa is to be built was donated to him by Mswati as a gesture of goodwill between the two countries. Mswati’s government has a track record of evicting poor eMaSwati from their land and demolishing their homes. He owns and controls vast tracts of titled deed, concessionary and customary land throughout the country. And he holds all the wealth, land and minerals “in trust” for the people!
An explosive investigation by an exiled online outfit, The Swaziland News, and other investigative sources points to a royal presidential web of massive proportions linking Mswati, Lungu, the ailing eSwatini Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini and his children, Tibiyo TakaNgwane, an investment holdings company held by Mswati “in trust” for the nation, the eSwatini government, through the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology, and three private companies, Swazi Mobile, a new cellular communications company in eSwatini, Inyatsi Construction eSwatini and Inyatsi Construction Zambia. Connect the dots… If this does not represent collusion at the highest levels of office between two heads of state, then nothing else does.
If such revelations are correct, the budding relationship between Mswati and “Royal President” Lungu is seriously ensconced in a web of deceit, lies and corruption on a grand scale that needs to be investigated immediately. One hopes that there is scope to pursue this in Zambia. While Lungu acts like a king, he is not. He is a president and he can be held to account. He must face what both Frederick Chiluba and Rupiah Banda faced. For eSwatini, a different kind of intervention, or a mix of strategies, is needed. These must be ones that address the fundamental aspects of Mswati’s continued absolute rule, which gives him unfettered power and insulation from accountability.
Mswati must be held to a standard of justice and accountability that ensures he governs in the interests of the people of eSwatini, or be removed to allow for democracy in the country. Lungu’s visit to eSwatini last year, ostensibly to grace the cultural UMhlanga festival, should not be forgotten. It is not known what he got up to while there.
However, it is now known that Lungu is to build a villa in eSwatini, to the tune of $4 million (R55m), on land received as a gift via a suspicious transaction from Inyatsi Properties – a company under the Inyatsi eSwatini group. Inyatsi has made a remarkable entry into the Zambian market, winning contracts for projects like a lucky gambler who has finally found the jackpot can be as easy as the alphabet.
It is no secret, too, that attempts were made to expand Swazi Mobile’s footprint to Zambia – albeit without success. Swazi Mobile has effectively been unleashed in eSwatini, while a cabal of close-knit actors all linked to this insidious royal presidential web work to keep the public company, eSwatini Post and Telecommunications Corporation (SPTC), out of business.
Swazi Mobile is chaired by the same man who chairs Inyatsi Construction Group Holdings, eSwatini, and he is of Zambian descent. The chairperson of SPTC, who is appointed by the minister of ICT, is also a non-executive director of Inyatsi. The people of Zambia and eSwatini need to keep their eyes on this nefarious web.
There might be clear grounds for Lungu’s impeachment and prosecution for corruption. As for Mswati, this debacle points to the problems of having an unaccountable executive monarchy in the 21st century. It offers cogent lessons as to why pressure for democratic reforms and change in eSwatini is most pressingly important today.
The people of eSwatini deserve answers and justice. Mswati’s continued unfettered access to power and public wealth derived from struggling eMaSwati must not continue unchallenged. The country should perhaps be without a king!
These ‘royals’ use a combination of patronage, propaganda, token benevolence… and brute force.