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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 April 2006, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Do events in Nepal resonate in Swaziland?
By Nick Ericsson
BBC Network Africa

King Mswati III of Swaziland
King Mswati was 18 when he began his reign
Tradition still rules supreme in Swaziland and as King Mswati III marks his 20 years on the throne this week, Africa's last absolute monarch can expect lavish celebratory displays.

The Swazi people never fail to impress their king on such state occasions - with pomp, pageantry, fleets of luxury cars, a mass of polished shoes and red uniforms.

But could the obvious deference shown towards King Mswati ever be replaced by something resembling the bloody scenes witnessed this month on the streets of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu?

Crowds gathered in the tiny South Asian kingdom to demand democratic reform.

"So far and no further," was the message uncompromisingly delivered to King Gyanendra, who claimed for himself absolute rule in the Himalayan Kingdom 14 months ago in response to a 10-year Maoist insurgency that has left more than 10,000 dead.

His father before him was very popular with the people so that has created mileage for the present Swazi monarch
Lecturer Nomthetho Simelana

This week, it seems, as a result of the protests and clashes with police and security forces, the king was humbled.

He recalled parliament and stressed his commitment to multi-party democracy and a constitutional monarchy, although the kingdom remains tense in the run-up to the opening of parliament on Friday.

Parallels

Further south, should King Mswati be taking notes?

A protester is blocked by troops in Kathmandu
Protests in Nepal have forced the king to recall parliament

The parallels between Nepal and Swaziland are obvious: both are landlocked, mountainous kingdoms with powerful neighbours.

In Nepal's case, China and India are next door; and Swaziland has South Africa over its border.

People in both countries are battling with chronic poverty - compounded in Swaziland by plummeting life expectancy and high HIV prevalence rate with more than 40% of the population infected.

Both have had a recent history of press restrictions and a less than enthusiastic response to democratic reform.

Then there is the head of state - one forced to recall parliament, the other happy to keep things pretty much as they are - and have been for the last 20 years.

Tradition

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge, reporting from the Swazi capital, Mbabane, at the coronation of the young king in April 1986, painted a picture of an 18-year-old prince forced home from school in the UK to rule after the death of his father King Sobhuza II, who like King Gyanendra had banned political parties during his reign.

Opposition leader Mario Masuku
We learn lessons from history... absolute monarchs eventually give in to the democratic rights of people
Mario Masuku
Swazi opposition leader

Although an absolute ruler and a traditionalist - much in the mould of his father - at the ceremony the young Mswati showed the promise of being a king of the people by walking among them, dancing with them in a slow rhythmic hymn, he reported.

Today, King Mswati still speaks of finding a way of easing the burdens of his subjects, among the world's poorest, and in 2005 he declared "a relentless war against poverty".

So, two decades on has he succeeded in finding a common touch with the masses?

Thabisile Ngwenya, a mother of six in Mbabane, says that in her opinion, King Mswati has "too many wives, too many motor cars" and that he "buys everything that is useless".

The king's 13 wives, is a modest number compared to his father's tally of more than 60.

In contrast, Nomthetho Simelana, a political scientist from the University of Swaziland, feels that the on-going events in Nepal need not register on the king's radar.

"The Swazi monarch has been very popular for a long period of time, and his father before him was very popular with the people so that has created mileage for the present monarch," she says.

"Besides, there is not the same kind of resentment towards the king as I have seen in Nepal."

Uprising

But Mario Masuku, the president of the banned opposition party People's United Democratic Movement, feels that the king should take note of the uprising in Kathmandu.

Nepal's king
King Gyanendra assumed direct rule in 2005

"We learn lessons from history. We believe that absolute monarchs eventually give in to the democratic rights of people," he says.

"We have constitutional monarchs in Lesotho and the United Kingdom where democracy is practised. King Mswati should learn that lesson."

Meanwhile, King Mswati had reassuring words this week for those in his country and the international community.

Speaking to a packed stadium in Nhlangano, he portrayed the monarchy as the kingdom's unifying force.

"If it were not for your support, I would not have been able to lead this country over the past 20 years," he told his subjects.

"I am happy to say that you diligently supported me, and I hope that you will continue to do so."




SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Swaziland
18 May 05 |  Country profiles
Profile: Troubled King Mswati
04 Dec 01 |  Africa
Country profile: Nepal
25 Apr 06 |  Country profiles
Profile: Nepal's King Gyanendra
18 Apr 06 |  South Asia
Swazi king picks young new wife
26 Sep 05 |  Africa
Taking the Aids battle forward
16 Sep 05 |  Africa


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