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ACTSA collaborates with Swaziland Human Rights Network in international solidarity for democracy in eSwatini

Tuesday, 7th April, 2020

Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) and the Swaziland Human Rights Network UK (SHRNUK) work closely together in support of human rights, equality and sustainable development in Swaziland. We are united in our belief that none of these noble objectives will be realised unless the country experiences genuine democratic transformation. 

 ACTSA, the successor organisation to the British Anti-Apartheid Movement, and SHRNUK, the leading diaspora group in Europe, stand with every Swazi who peacefully challenges the disastrous policies and practices of their country’s leadership. We are proud to work in solidarity with those in Swaziland who refuse to be silenced in the struggle for freedom and justice.

 Over the past year, we have been appalled by attacks on trade unionists and students, as well as by harassment and intimidation of opposition politicians. We have also been disgusted by the royal family’s expenditure on luxury vehicles as the country’s public health system collapses and hunger deepens.

 At the present time, we are particularly concerned about the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on Swaziland. Authoritarian regimes, including the one in Swaziland, may view this crisis as an opportunity to crack down on dissent. Meanwhile Swazi and other African elites will have few problems accessing essentials compared with the poor and excluded.

 We see our primary role as activists engaging with power outside of Africa, pressurising the wider international community, especially Western actors, to support the campaign for democracy in Swaziland. We are the first to admit that, to date, we have largely failed. 

 When it comes to promoting democracy in Swaziland,the US is probably the best of a bad bunch. We were shocked at how uncritical Ambassador Lisa Peterson was when she first took up her post. We were also extremely disappointed when the US government reinstated Swaziland’s benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. However, more recently, Ambassador Peterson has spoken out in favour of democracy and against corruption. 

 Although the UK High Commissioner, John Lindfield, has had over six months in the job, we are not seeing any clear signs that he is holding the Government of Swaziland to account for their violations of human rights and democratic norms. Post-Brexit Britain appears to be obsessed only with (largely self-serving) trade and investment deals.  

 The European Union(EU) has certainly funded some useful human rights work in Swaziland. Yet the EU’s Ambassador, Esmeralda Hernandez Aragones, has undermined this by praising Africa’s last absolute monarch (she has also advocated for development-defeating austerity). Her predecessor, Nicola Bellomo, was equally averse to criticism, but he seemed to have more of a commitment to democracy. 

 The Commonwealth’s performance in relation to Swaziland is little more than a joke. Officials at the Commonwealth Secretariat have stopped pretending that the Commonwealth is doing anything useful to promote democracy in the country.

 Foreign diplomats like to give two excuses for why they do not do more in support of democracy in Swaziland. First, they argue that, as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) are reluctant to act against Swaziland, non-Africa actors can only take limited action without appearing to be neo-imperial. This is nonsense. It is true that SADC and the AU are both pathetic when it comes to defending human rights and democratic governance. Yet this does not change the fact that human rights and democracy are fundamentally anti-imperialist. If non-African governments and multilateral institutions were to do the right thing, they would not just help Swazis, they would also show up SADC and the AU – a win-win.

 Second, the diplomats lament the weaknesses of the Swazipro-democracy movement and say these shortcomings limit what can be done by external actors. This represents a partial truth wrapped up in more nonsense. The weaknesses of the Swazipro-democracy movement do not stop international actors from directly challenging autocracy. In addition, the international community could and should do far more (in a coordinated manner) to help pro-democracy forces in Swaziland unite. 

 

At the same time, we do believe that those working for democracy within Swaziland need to be more effective. We were heartened to see the formation of the Political Parties Assembly (PPA). However, we were not given information about this in advance, and have not received any information about the PPA since its launch. We would like to see civil society organisations advocating for democracy to improve coordination, and both civil society and the PPA to better communicate with their friends overseas. History tells us that united in-country movements that are strongly aligned with international solidarity movements can bring about real and lasting positive change.

 Paraphrasing Theodore Parker, Martin Luther King Jr famously said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” If this is true, it is only because of visionary, inclusive and self-critical leadership on the part of individuals and organisations pursuing justice. Those involved with Swaziland’s liberation struggle – wherever in the world we may be – have much to do if we are to live up to standards set by our predecessors. 

 

For our part, ACTSA and SHRNUK recognise that we need to redouble our efforts to press key international actors to change their approaches and provide maximum support to the people of Swaziland. If they do not, current and future generations of Swazis will judge them most unkindly. 

 

 

Sunit Bagree is senior campaigns officer at Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA)

Goodwill Mathonsiis secretary of the Swaziland Human Rights Network UK (SHRNUK)

ACTSA collaborates with Swaziland Human Rights Network in international solidarity for democracy in eSwatini
Protesters in eSwatini