Misery, hunger,oppression, yes, but no risk of intervention in Swaziland

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 4, 2015
King Mswati III picks his 14th wife

King Mswati III picks his 14th wife

“Playboy King,” this wonderful OZY story on the mansions, wives and luxury cars of Mswati III of Swaziland illustrates exactly what we’ve been discussing these past two days: there is no risk of western intervention in this small country next to South Africa.

Mswati III, the 46-year absolute ruler, presides over great misery. According to the story (which hyperlinks through to the relevant sources):  “Swaziland is the seventh-hungriest country in the world, 63 percent of its citizens live below the poverty line and more than 1 in 4 adults (aged 15–49) have HIV/AIDS.” Meanwhile, the king buys cars worth 61 years of Swazi wages, crushes rare flashes of dissent and jails journalists.

(The seventh-hungriest classification comes from the Global Huger Index, which lists Swaziland as follows – 2,100 calories available per day; Undernourished: 35.8%; Calorie deficit: 262).

So why does the world stand by and do nothing about such tyrannical cruelty with no end in sight? Because Swaziland has no significance – it has no oil or important natural resources. There is no particular reason to expend much thought and military resources on a nullity of a country. This view is endorsed by Chris Vandome of the Africa program at Chatham House in London.

Only very occasionally is there any meaningful intervention. In 2011, South Africa rescinded $207 million after King Mswati refused to make basic political reforms. Last year, the US issued a proclamation withdrawing Swaziland’s eligibility for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which became effective on January 1.

This will put pressure on the embattled Swaziland economy, particularly its garment industry, which has benefited from preferential market access available under AGOA.

But there will be no real intervention because Swaziland just doesn’t matter much to anyone.