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Saturday, 31 January 2009

MORE DOUBTS OVER SWAZI UNIVERSITY

The Burden of Debt

By a coincidence of timing just as I was reporting that Swaziland’s first private university would not open next month as planned comes an announcement that it will start up in July 2009.


Limkokwing, with headquarters in Malaysia, is a ‘private’ university (that is one not funded by government) that has been rapidly expanding across the world in recent years and now has campuses in London, Cyberjaya, Kuching, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, New York, Lesotho and Botswana. Unlike many private universities which run as charities, this one intends to be profit-making.


The Swazi Observer reported on Thursday (29 January 2009) Pat Muir, Principal Secretary at the Swaziland Ministry of Education and Training, saying the university will open in July.


Limkokwing is to be located at the former Swaziland Institute of Management and Public Administrations (SIMPA) premises at Sidvwashini in the outskirts of Mbabane City.


The university had previously requested the Swazi Government to secure 1,000 scholarships for students to study within the institution and Muir had stated that government would have to pay about E3 million for this.


I have my doubts about the financial viability of a new university in Swaziland, because the kingdom is too poor to support one. This week students from the kingdom’s only university, the state-controlled University of Swaziland boycotted classes to petition the government for higher personal allowances.


There are doubts whether Swaziland, which has a population of only one million people, with 70 per cent of them earning less than one US dollar a day, can afford to run a university.


Budgets are tight in Swaziland and only this week there were protests about the government failing to meet its constitutional obligation to provide free primary school education for all children.


Limkokwing has faced controversy in the past. I reported on Wednesday that Limkokwing in Botswana had been heavily criticised for the poor quality of teaching amid doubts that courses taught at the university are accredited by any official organisation.


Doubts about Limkokwing have surfaced elsewhere. In January 2008 a news service run by the Association of Commonwealth Universities for university vice chancellors said of Limkokwing, ‘There are some obvious questions: how can it sustain such a rapid expansion and still maintain quality? Where will it find the multi-talented academic staff needed to support all its overseas ventures? Can it provide the same industrial links and placements to students in its overseas campuses – particularly in countries such as Lesotho where there is little large scale industry?’


The future of Limkokwing in Swaziland might not be bright. Without government support it is difficult to see how it will be able to attract fee paying students. We don’t have long to wait for the answers. The annual Swaziland budget is expected to be announced in February, so we will soon see how committed the Swaziland Government really is to the Limkokwing project.

Friday, 30 January 2009

PM BACKS ATTACK ON SWAZI DISSIDENT

Swaziland’s illegally-appointed Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini has said it was all right for Swazi police to haul in dissident Mfomfo Nkhambule and make him stop writing newspaper articles that criticised King Mswati III.


Dlamini told a meeting of Swaziland media editors and senior journalists,
‘government has a duty to protect the Head of State if someone wants to pit him against the nation’.


You won’t see a clearer statement that freedom of expression is banned in Swaziland and if you disagree with the government, you will be dealt with.


He also said – rather sinisterly – that Swazi police could question anyone they wanted to, but he denied that the police were sent to question Nkhambule by some higher authority.


Nkhambule was threatened with up to 20 years in jail if he didn’t stop his criticisms. Mbongeni Mbingo, the editor of the Times Sunday went so far as to speculate that Nkhambule would have been tortured by police if he didn’t do as he was told.


Nkhambule, a former Swaziland Cabinet minister and present chair of the Inlhalva Forum political party, was also forced to appear before his local traditional leaders and told that he must quit the Balondolozi King’s regiment if he continued to be outspoken.

SWAZILAND PM IS IN FANTASY LAND

Swaziland’s illegally-appointed Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini has said that other countries envy Swaziland politically.


He told a meeting of Swaziland media editors and senior journalists yesterday (29 January 2009) that the only problem Swaziland had was that the international community didn’t understand what life was really like in Swaziland and therefore criticised it through ignorance.


According to a report in the Times of Swaziland today (30 January 2009), Dlamini said ‘other countries always marvelled at the way things were done in the country’.


There is nothing new in Dlamini’s comments. We are often told by Swazis with political power that things are just dandy in Swaziland and everyone likes life in the kingdom, so stop criticising it.


Even the lie that other countries envy Swaziland gets trotted out from time to time. I notice that the prime minister didn’t actually list the countries that are said to envy Swaziland its lack of democracy. In Swaziland, political parties are banned, King Mswati III makes all of the important decisions and the parliament has no real powers.


Seven in ten people live in abject poverty earning less than one US dollar a day while the king has a wealth estimated at 200 million US dollars (about E1.4 billion).


Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world and last year six in ten of the kingdom’s population relied on international food aid to avoid starvation.


Now tell me what exactly there is to envy about Swaziland?


People outside of Swaziland are getting to hear the truth about life in the kingdom. By a coincidence of timing, the day that the Swazi Prime Minister was making his absurd claim there appeared a report in a small town newspaper in Greene County, Virginia, in the United States.


The locals had gathered to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama as US President. The Greene County Record newspaper reports, ‘It was Dumisille, a native of Swaziland in Africa, who later best explained the gift of democracy all felt that night.


‘“I grew up in a region where there was no choice in government,” says Dumisille. “You were given a name and told that was who you vote for. I became an American in 1988 and when I first voted I thought “oh my gosh, you mean to tell me I can choose?”’


Not much envy of Swaziland there . . .

Thursday, 29 January 2009

SWAZI CIVIL SOCIETY CALLS FOR TALKS

The following is the full text of a letter sent by civil society organisations in Swaziland to the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Troika on Politics, Defense and Security which met this week. It calls for urgent talks to be convened in order to resolve the constituional crisis that presently exists in Swaziland.




Swaziland United Democratic Front National Constitutional Assembly

P. O. Box 6959 P. O. Box 6959

Manzini Manzini

Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organizations

P.O. Box 4173

Mbabane


H. E. K. Motlanthe, The Chairperson of SADC, President of South Africa

H. E. Armondo Guebuza, Deputy Chairperson of the SADC Troika, President of Mozambique

H. E. President Dos Santos, Outgoing Chairperson of the SADC Troika, President of Angola

H. E. Dr. Salamoa, Executive Secretary of SADC


Your Excellencies,


Date: 26 January, 2009


Subject: Political Impasse in Swaziland

Please receive our cordial greetings from Swaziland’s Civil Society. We are writing to request that SADC urgently convenes a dialogue between the Swaziland government and the civil society sector and political parties in Swaziland. We are aware that Swaziland is the current Chair of the Troika on Politics, Defense and Security. As such, we are of the conviction that it is an opportune moment for us to provide you with a brief update on events in Swaziland over the last eighteen months, with a view to SADC taking steps towards the holding of talks to:

  • Resolve the constitutional crisis
  • End the ban on political parties that has been in place since 1973; and
  • Provide greater space for the involvement of civil society in the normal functioning of affairs in the country, including in the workings of parliament and the monitoring of issues of corruption and governance.
  • The unconditional release of Mr. Mario Masuku from prison

We wish to place on record the following issues of importance in respect of State and Civil Society relations:


1 Constitution Making and Content

In 1996, the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland began the process of writing a new Constitution. This process was largely the result of consistent calls from Civil Society over a number of years. Indeed, Civil Society had drafted a list of twenty-seven popular demands that were shared with the Government in order to support the drafting process. These demands were completely ignored and instead a process that authored a Constitution that did not reflect the will of the people was adopted. In fact there were a number of process issues that marred the Constitution-making process. These include:

· the unilateral appointment of commissioners by His Majesty King Mswati III without due regard to the competence and representativeness of those appointed

· the unilateral determination of the terms of reference by His Majesty

· the sole determination of the calendar wherein this process would take place and the stages that it should follow

· the shutting off of the media from following up the process as it unfolded and reporting on it

· the determination of the process of adoption of the final text including unilateral changes effected by the King after parliament’s adoption of the final text

· the failure of the state to provide civic education

· the denial of group presentations or submissions.

The result of these flawed processes is that there are significant democratic deficits in the constitution. It effectively re-enacts the 1973 Proclamation, for example, it fails to give space to political parties and does not provide for a separation of powers. These are fundamental tenets of democracy.


2 Constitutionalism

Not only has the Constitution failed to garner the respect of the populace, it has also failed to be respected by the King himself. For example, His Majesty has not conformed to the dictates of the constitution in the appointment of members of the Elections and Boundaries Commission. In terms of the appointment of quotas of women representatives in the House of Assembly, His Majesty the King failed to heed the demands of Sections 94 and 95 in appointing members to both the House of Assembly and Senate. The country continues to fall foul of even the 30 percent representation that was demanded by the 1997 SADC Gender and Development Declaration.


Similarly the challenges that the constitution poses in the electoral process means that Swaziland violates all but one of the SADC guidelines in the conduct of elections agreed upon in Mauritius: that an election be held at least every five years. Aside from this very basic requirement, Swaziland is unwilling or incapable of complying with the Mauritius Principles.


3 Political Parties

The King’s Proclamation to the Nation of 1973 which banned all political parties effectively still holds true today. This political malaise has unfortunately, lead to a situation in which certain disgruntled elements have displayed their anger in violent ways. For example, there have been various incidents of petrol bombings and attempts at blowing up certain installations. We wish to state a priori that we strongly condemn violent means of seeking to engage. It is clear however that these incidents create the utmost urgency for engagement.


4 Suppression of Terrorism Act

The recently enacted Suppression of Terrorism Act 2008, in terms of which certain groups, including the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and its youth wing the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) and the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) were deemed specially listed entities and therefore illegal. No evidence to back these claims up as been produced. This is a clear indication that this law is aimed at clamping down any opposition to the system of governance. Its wording is so nebulous so as to outlaw most of the activities that civil society groups embark upon on a daily basis. For this reason, as Civil Society, we align ourselves with the observations of Amnesty International and the International Bar Association which called for its repeal or significant reform.[1]


5 Torture, Degrading Treatment and Police Impunity

Notwithstanding its ratification of the UN Convention against torture and degrading treatment, Swaziland’s law enforcement agencies routinely use torture against detained Human Rights Defenders and Political Activists. In September 2008, protesting leaders of Civil Society were abducted without arrest, held in police vans without food, water or fresh air, for over sixteen hours. They were taken on a hell-ride on rough roads across the country and were eventually dumped in various isolated places.


6 Civil Society Space

The tendency of the government to quash genuine debate, the flawed constitution and the constitution-making process, new terrorism act and the democratic abuses being carried out under it, and the fact that political parties are banned, present real challenges to democracy in Swaziland. They also contribute to an environment in which it is difficult to challenge corruption and the abuse of power by those within the state or to adequately protect human, civil and political rights. Swazi society today stands at an impasse, with escalating violence and widespread poverty and HIV being the consequences of the status quo with respect to space for debate and dialogue.


As members of civil society we represent the wishes of thousands of ordinary Swazi men and women who are committed to peace and democracy. We urge SADC to call upon His Majesty King Mswati III to agree to participate in a genuine dialogue with the affected Civil Society groupings and political parties in order to resolve the differences between the leadership of the country and the people of Swaziland.


We ask that this dialogue be convened by SADC and chaired by a designated member of the Community.


We look forward to hearing from you on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Mr. Jan J. Sithole National Constitutional Assembly: Trustee

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

Mr. Vincent V. Ncongwane Swaziland United Democratic Front: Secretary General

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

Mr. Musa I. N. Hlophe Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organizations: Coordinator.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

CC: His Majesty King Mswati III

H.E. B S Dlamini, Prime Minister of Swaziland

UN Secretary General

African Union

The Commonwealth Secretariat

All Diplomatic Missions Accredited to SWAZILAND

Amnesty International

International Bar Association

CIVICUS

Southern Africa Trade Union Council

Human Rights Watch

SADC-CNGO

FIDH

ACTSA



[1] For further information on this issue see: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AFR55/001/2009/en