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Update on Swazi protests

Several thousand protesters marched through the streets of Mbabane on Friday. Indeed, many said they were inspired by events North of the Sahara, and surely felt greater confidence in the possibilities for real political change (BBC). Not much word yet about the Royal Monarchy’s response.

And yesterday, South Africa’s major labor confederation, COSATU, offered its support for Swazi protestors (M&G). Given their historic role in South Africa’s political liberalization, and their frankly uncomfortable position within their own domestic politics at the moment, I would not be surprised if they actually go the distance to invest the time and the resources to give a bit of oxygen to this flicker of change. The hornet’s nest here is the question of traditional leadership more generally, as such leaders enjoy substantial support in both Swaziland and South Africa. So while modern African leaders rarely directly challenge traditional leaders, given the dire situation in Swaziland, and the combination of blatant mis-management of the public treasury, and a long record of  conspicuous Royal consumption, other SADC leaders may give the King a cool reception if protests intensify.

Now let’s face facts: a little country with just over one million people and no major strategic resources is not high on the agenda of any of the world’s great powers. But the fact that over a million people in a homogeneous, middle-income country, surrounded by relatively democratic countries, are themselves afforded almost no serious political rights, is a real puzzle. Under such circumstances, we could either try to explain why the country is an exception, or predict that it will change. We’ll see how the next few weeks unfold, but the time for some serious political reform may be coming.

 

About Evan Lieberman

I am a Professor of Political Science at MIT, and I conduct research, write, and teach about development, ethnic politics, and research methods.

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