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Challenge and repression in Swaziland

Understandably, many Swazi citizens are not happy with the current state of affairs: weak and declining economy; world’s worst AIDS epidemic; falling government revenue from customs union; greedy king flying private jets. Same old story gets worse, but political mobilization does seems to be on the rise.

The 9000 members of the national teachers union began to strike in late June when the government refused to increase their salaries to half of the current inflation rate. Along with the more general pro-democracy protests that I’ve written about previously, this type of mass action is not standard fare in Swaziland. According to one report,

“It is unusual for whole schools to empty and children taking to the streets like this. I’ve never seen anything like this that is so widespread. This is not the Swazi [practice] to be confrontational or disrespectful to police and authority, and you can see these children are very frustrated and angry,” — Felicia Simelane, a seamstress whose shop provided a bird’s eye view of a confrontation between police, students and teachers in Manzini.

And the nurses union is planning to join the teachers, at least for a temporary show of solidarity.

In turn, earlier this week the government responded by cutting striking teachers salaries by 33 percentand with teargas and violent repression.

I continue to be amazed by the lack of international media attention to this story. That bad stuff happens in Africa is perhaps not always “news,” but this level of organized challenge to the monarchy strikes me as somewhat extraordinary. But I’m not a news editor, and luckily scholars aren’t judged by how many papers we sell or numbers of clicks to our stories. I have not heard that “Swaziland protest” is trending on twitter or facebook…

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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