Is Swaziland ripe for political change? The Royal Kingdom is generally rated one of the most autocratic regimes on Earth, in the company of places like Chad, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia. A landlocked country, it borders democratic South Africa, and liberalizing Mozambique. But for almost 40 years, the country has been ruled with only the most modest of political reforms. Meanwhile, it has suffered arguably the world’s worst AIDS pandemic, and life expectancy has halved, all while the king has amassed a nine-figure fortune.
In recent years, a few minor protests have done little to spark mass action. This week, however, two events are worth noting: the state is asking for a $145 million loan to address its budget deficit – no doubt needed because of expenditures on a $1 billion airport that is hardly a necessity item (see M&G 3/17) – and protestors are planning mass action in the capital tomorrow (allafrica 3/17).
Certainly all of the protests in the Middle East and North Africa must be having a demonstration effect on activists in Swaziland, and on sympathizers in South Africa. Citizens have traditionally supported the monarchy, but I wonder if this combination of pressures will lead to action that will have a more profound impact? To be certain, the Swazi government does not have the type of military or other capacity that the Gulf monarchies do to withstand massive political pressure. But we’ll have to wait and see whether or not frustration with poverty, financial mismanagement and some foreign inspiration will spark mobilization.