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How Swaziland's Governance Model and AIDS Crisis Intersect

December 05, 2006 // 2:00pm3:30pm
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Maternal Health Initiative
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On December 5th, the Woodrow Wilson Center's Africa Program hosted an event on the recent developments in Swaziland co-sponsored by the Open Society Institute. A panel of four experts discussed a wide range of social and economic challenges currently facing Swaziland including its economic growth, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, and the government's handling of opposition parties. The panelists included Akwe Amosu, Africa Policy Analyst for Open Society Institute; Muzi Masuku, Swaziland Program Manager for Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa; Ted Piccone, Executive Director for Democracy Coalition Project; and Joseph Siegle, Senior Director for Democratic Governance.

Muzi Masuku opened up the discussion with a review of the historical background of Swaziland. Swaziland gained its independence in 1968 as a Constitutional Monarchy with a Bill of Rights for individual protections. He emphasized that during this period multi-party elections were permitted, most notably the post-independence elections in 1972 in which the opposition party, the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC), garnered enough support to challenge the ruling party, the Imbokodvo National Movement (INM). However, shortly thereafter, in 1973, the constitution was abrogated, and the king appropriated the judicial, executive, and legislative powers to himself. A constitution review commission created in 1996 was given the task of rewriting the constitution over an eight-year period. On February 8th 2003, King Mswati III delivered the new constitution to the Swazi nation.

Masuku discussed the challenges brought on as a result of this new constitution. These included the concept of separation of powers, which has failed to emerge given the King's extensive powers, resulting in an abridgement of freedom and equality.

Masuku then discussed some of Swaziland's current political, economic and social challenges. He addressed the problem of fiscal discipline. He noted that two years ago, Swaziland's Minister of Finance indicated that Swaziland loses around 40 million Lilangeni (about $5.5 million dollars) every month due to corruption. Meanwhile Swaziland's healthcare facilities remain in financial crisis and struggle with the ability buy drugs. Currently the country's Ministry of Health allocates only 7% of the budget to the healthcare sector, which is highly consumed by the HIV/AIDS crisis. He contrasted this with the Abuja Coalition in 2001, which called for African countries to reach a 15% target for healthcare allocations in their national budgets.

The discussion was continued by Joseph Siegle, who compared Swaziland's experience to other African development and governance experiences over the last twenty years. He began with a summary of how governance and development have been viewed across the continent. According to his assessment, significant changes have occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa in the last decade and a half. Siegle summarized the four different ways in which the 48 Sub-Saharan countries have been categorized, according to the Freedom House's political rights and civil liberties index. The categories are consolidated democracies, democratizer countries, semi-authoritarian countries, and autocracies. He pointed out that Swaziland, Africa's last remaining monarchy, was ranked as an autocracy.

Given these indices Siegle noted that democracies tend to have relatively lower levels of corruption; meanwhile, autocracies view corruption as a means of maintaining the networks that keep them in power. Siegle believes that democracies also tend to do a better job of avoiding catastrophes. This is because within democracies, there are incentives for governments to respond to the population by enforcing policies to avoid crises.

In terms of Swaziland, he stated that "King Mswati and other leaders can keep marching their societies off a cliff because no one has mechanisms to bring them in." The problems in Africa and Swaziland are largely problems of governance. Democracy can serve to bring in more than intrinsic values in developing societies including checks and balances and a notion of power. This creates mechanisms whereby citizens are able to influence their leaders to implement changes.

Lastly, Siegle addressed how the role of the international community can be problematic given their urgency to first respond to Swaziland's HIV/ADIS, crisis which implies that Swaziland's governance problems would only be addressed later. Siegle stressed that in setting up its priorities this way the international community would be focusing on the symptoms and therefore fail to address the root causes of the HIV/AIDS crisis.

In sum, Siegle found Swaziland's development performance to be in a decline due a government that is based on neo-patrimonial structures, plagued by corrupt practices, and eschewing checks and balances, all of which are contrary to the functioning of a true democracy.

Ted Piccone discussed the various strategies the international community has pursued to enable democratic transitions. He examined how these strategies could now be applied to Swaziland. He encouraged Swaziland to put a human face on its HIV/AIDS crisis given the competition that exists for international attention. Swaziland's story also ought to be put on the agenda of organizations concerned not only with HIV/AIDS, but also with protecting human rights and democracy.

Piccone also emphasized the need for creating a national voice to allow people to begin to conceptualize change, think about key opportunities, and establish benchmarks. He remarked that a key opportunity to voice the need for change will be the upcoming presidential election of 2008. This election will present the opportunity to stress the need for increased international support, government accountability, and the strengthening of civil society, especially an independent media.

Finally, Piccone enumerated Swaziland's key donors: the Netherlands, Italy, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Commission, and the World Bank. He recommended that the Swazi reformer committee lobby the governments of its major donors, African regional organizations, and the United Nations as a way of pressuring the Swazi government to consider economic and political reforms. He concluded his presentation by highlighting the role of civil society in constructing a platform to create a long term vision for Swaziland.

Akwe Amosu provided closing remarks by reinforcing the need for African regional organizations, like the African Commission of People and Human rights in Gambia, ECOWAS, and NEPAD to play a part in bringing about sustainable changes in Swaziland.

Drafted by Tina Byenkya and Doreen Chi.

 
Event Speakers List: 
  • Africa Policy Analyst, Open Society Institute
  • Swaziland Program Manager, Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa
  • Executive Director, Democracy Coalition Project
  • Senior Director for Democratic Governance, DAI
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