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Swazi unions take to streets in protest strike

It’s been a while since I last wrote about the protests in Swaziland, and thought I would check in to see what’s going on, and it turns out that new surges of activity have emerged across several towns in the autocratic Southern African kingdom in just the past day:

AFP: Swazi unions take to streets in protest strike.

MANZINI — Hundreds of union members took to the streets Thursday in cities and towns around Swaziland to protest government moves to cut civil servants’ salaries amid a deepening financial crisis.

Some 400 people joined the protest in Mbabane, the capital, while about 300 marched in Manzini, the country’s commercial hub. Protests were also under way in two other towns.

See also brief business day  and ap articles

At the moment, it appears that King Mswati III is allowing the protests to proceed without massive repression, even as union organizers mobilizing the activities challenge him to resign.

While protestors are calling for democratic reforms, there’s not doubt that the protests were set off by a public sector wage freeze, not some particular denial of civil liberties. Also — and this is notable, because mass action around HIV/AIDS in Africa has actually been quite rare — citizens are voicing complaints about shortages of ARV drugs.

It’s still unclear whether there’s sufficient momentum to effect any real change, but this now marks several months of relatively sustained demonstrations. If the demands are ultimately material ones, however, Mswati may opt to follow the Saudi playbook, and buy off support using his reported $100 million+ fortune.

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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