By Conor Godfrey on April 27, 2011
The worst ruler on earth gets a classy invite.
Up until yesterday, I had successfully avoided learning anything about the royal wedding in Great Britain.
(Full disclosure—I once argued at a family dinner with several small children present that we needed to overthrow the princess culture that dominated the minds of our young women at an early age—I may be an outlier.)
I failed because the royal wedding sneaked in the back door—through Africa.
It turns out that King Mswati III of Swaziland has received an invitation, and will be attending the show with 50 of his closest friends.
It’s a little bit like a reward for being the worst ruler on the planet.
King Mswati III has an impressive record…other would-be governing catastrophes would do well to study his techniques.
Let’s have a look at King Mswati’s resume:
1. Swaziland has the highest AIDS rate in the world
2. 50% of adults in their 20’s have HIV
3. Life expectancy is 32 years
4. 60% of people live on $1.25 or less a day
Money is not so much a problem though—all 51 members of the royal entourage will be sleeping at the Dorchester Hotel for about 500 pounds per night during the wedding festivities.
Labor unions, teachers, and the country’s president have all been targets during the recent unrest.
This makes me angry enough to go through the futile effort of finding someone to blame (besides Mswati III himself of course).
First—South Africa and the other members of the Southern African Development Community.
If governments continue to hide behind pan-African solidarity to avoid cleaning house, then a few bad apples like King Mswati III are going to make pan-African-ness synonymous with rotten.
South Africans are great with political cartoons—here is one that describes how I feel about Zuma’s mediation efforts.
The next culprit is unfortunately colonialism.
As you know, the colonial powers did not have near enough people to rule the colonies directly.
They were forced to empower local power brokers and co-opt traditional checks and balances on tribal authority.
This created a class of rapacious local elites who became the oppressors, conscriptors, and tax collectors on behalf of their colonial masters.
Swaziland was in the British colonial orbit for almost all of the colonial period, excluding a brief period when South Africa administered Swazi affairs.
Eventually, the British claimed Swaziland as a autonomous protectorate, and thus empowered the local autocrats to maintain the status quo.
As in most now independent African countries, once the pressure mounted, Britain fled Swaziland in disarray and left radical parties to take control.
In the 1970s, after a sweeping “electoral” victory, King Sobhuza disbanded the democracy that had haphazardly come into being in 1968.
The ‘electoral’ interlude emasculated traditional checks and balances, and the restored monarchy had more power than their royal ancestors would have dreamed of!
None of this really matters though, and I do not pretend to have a perfect understanding of the nuances of Swaziland’s colonial experience.
At present, the problem is that King Mswati III is quite possibly the worst national ruler on the planet, and I think that the country seems too small and insignificant for anyone to do anything about it.