Eswatini celebrates 55 years with Taiwan’s presence, while democracy remains missing.
- Eswatini celebrated its 55th anniversary on Wednesday.
- Taiwan was a notable participant in the festivities.
- The government of Eswatini believes that the country’s progress is cause for celebration, but civil society activists have differing opinions.
Following the Umhlanga Reed Dance, Eswatini will commemorate the “55/55 double celebrations” on Wednesday, combining the celebrations of independence with the birthday of King Mswati III, the last absolute monarch in Africa.
The Reed Dance is a five-day event where young women and unmarried girls gather to cut reeds for the annual repairs of the queen mother’s village’s windbreaks.
Among the noteworthy guests at the ceremony were former Botswana president Ian Khama, former South African president Jacob Zuma, King Letsie III of Lesotho, and Zulu King Misuzulu.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen arrived in Eswatini on Tuesday. She will attend the king’s birthday celebrations and the country’s Independence Day commemorations.
Eswatini is Taiwan’s only recognized ally in Africa, as the rest of the continent aligns itself with China, which considers Taiwan as part of its territory.
According to the Eswatini government, agreements have been made with Taiwan on topics such as micro-financing for women-led startups and cooperation between Taiwan’s state development company and the Eswatini Petroleum Company.
Prime Minister Cleopas Sipho Dlamini stated that the celebrations would commemorate Eswatini’s 55 years of progress and development as a kingdom.
We now have schools, improved road infrastructure, and other amenities that we lacked in the past. We have every reason to celebrate.
The World Bank reports that Eswatini’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth slowed to 0.4% in 2022 from 7.9% in 2021. This decline was attributed to a poor agricultural season and political unrest.
The 2021 Labour Force Survey revealed an unemployment rate of 33.3%, the highest in a decade. The report also indicated that 55% of AmaSwati earn below the poverty line, and 60% of the population lives in poverty.
The kingdom also has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in Southern Africa, standing at 27% among people aged 15 to 49.
Absence of democracy
For pro-democracy activists, there is little cause for celebration.
The Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice (FSEJ), a civic group, has called for the release of two prominent political prisoners, legislators Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube.
These individuals have been in custody for over two years and face a potential prison sentence of up to 20 years.
In a statement attributed to executive director Thabo Masuku, the FSEJ expressed concern about the Eswatini government’s use of the judicial system to silence activists and human rights defenders.
It is highly troubling that the Eswatini government continues to silence activists and human rights defenders by exploiting the judicial system.
“The judiciary should independently uphold the values of justice and fairness, rather than harassing and intimidating pro-democracy activists like Mabuza and Dube.”
The civil society in Eswatini is still reeling from the targeted killing of human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko in January.
The government has distanced itself from the assassination, and no progress has been made in the investigation.
Maseko was the leader of the Swaziland Multi-Stakeholder Forum, a coalition of pro-democracy groups.
Last year, they convened in Mbombela, Mpumalanga, to adopt the eBundu Declaration.
This declaration outlined a strategy to advocate for the king’s abdication and the rejection of the Tinkhundla electoral system.
The Tinkhundla, which is the kingdom’s general elections, is scheduled to take place on September 29.
Currently, Eswatini is functioning without a parliament after Mswati III dissolved it in late July to pave the way for the elections.