Is the king above the law?
From The Economist print edition
The king won't take "no" for an answer
IT SOUNDS like a schoolgirl's dream. Just as a class prepares for exams, two emissaries from the handsome young king walk in, and whisk off a pretty student to become his bride. Traditionalists in Swaziland believe that any girl should feel honoured to be picked as the 34-year-old King Mswati III's latest wife (he already has nine). But Zena Mahlangu's mother disagrees.
This week, the High Court considered a case brought by Lindiwe Dlamini, Ms Mahlangu's mother, who claims that the 18-year-old queen-to-be was kidnapped by the royal flunkies, along with two other girls. It is not clear what Ms Mahlangu herself thinks, as she is shut up incommunicado in a palace. As she is still a minor under Swazi law, her mother, a public-relations manager at the post office, can claim to speak for her.
Taking the king to court would be difficult, since he is above the law, so Ms Dlamini is suing his two emissaries instead. The case has become a rallying point for feminists, who argue that Swazi customary law is a tad reactionary. Women cannot own land, take out loans or enter into contracts. Forced marriages are common. And the chief symbol of Swazi patriarchy is the monarch himself, who selects a new bride each year from among the hundreds of topless virgins who twirl for his pleasure at a ceremony called the reed dance.
One lawsuit does not make a revolution, but the monarchy is under pressure from other quarters, too. In August, the High Court freed Mario Masuku, the main opposition leader, who had spent a year in prison on charges of defaming the king. Incarceration does not seem to have chastened him. Last month, he said it was time for the royal government to be "wiped out". This month, pressure from donors, who help feed tens of thousands of hungry Swazis, helped to persuade the country's normally toothless parliament to reject a plan to spend rather more than the food aid budget on a royal jet.
Perhaps most worrying for the king are his subjects' increasingly loud demands for a new constitution, to replace the one that his father suspended in 1973. When campaigners met in July to propose a modern, democratic system, one of the king's wives had the gall to attend, and to speak approvingly of the concept of the rule of law.
Stick beats carrot
From The Economist print edition
Who suffers most when donors punish Malawi's jetset?
Hunger for that executive jet
ARE aid donors being callous or clever in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world? Just as it faces acute food shortages and appeals for emergency aid for 3m people, foreign donors have pulled the plug on most other types of assistance. Though food help is rolling in, the IMF is refusing to disburse a $55m loan; Britain has suspended its budgetary help; Denmark shut its embassy in January and scrapped all its aid projects. Now the EU has told Malawi to refund euro8m ($8m) given as a road-building grant but "diverted" by the government. Unless the money is returned by August 30th, five years of further EU help worth euro345m will be in jeopardy.
Donors are exasperated with graft, economic negligence, over-borrowing and undemocratic behaviour by Malawi's elected government. With good reason. Ministers and civil servants jet between their offices in Lilongwe and the commercial capital, Blantyre; they are fonder of foreign travel, country retreats, perks and workshops than of reducing poverty. The country's anti-corruption unit said this week that senior officials should go on trial for selling all 160,000 tons of maize from the national grain reserve two years ago, despite warnings of impending famine. Aid workers in Lilongwe suspect well-connected traders of hoarding the grain and selling it at a premium to hungry Malawians. In response, the president, Bakili Muluzi, promptly sacked Leonard Mangulama, his poverty-alleviation minister, on August 6th on suspicion of snapping up grain himself on the cheap.
Since aid is about a third of the government's revenue, concerted foreign pressure is likely to tell, at least on senior politicians. And it should set an example to other poor but corrupt countries in the region. Most foreign aid, aside from emergency food, has been stopped for Zimbabwe. Swaziland may be next: donors have learned that the government is spending some $55m on a presidential jet, while appealing for foreign help to feed its hungry.
But turning off the tap may not be the answer. Many diplomats believe carrots work much better than sticks: "It is impossible to make governments meet conditions other than by rewarding good behaviour," suggests one aid specialist. Emergency food-aid is never tied to good government behaviour. If it were, Zimbabwe's hungry would become a great deal hungrier yet.
Are you feeling hungry already? I am...p.s. Badawi is not that fella father's name. It is just a glamorous addition, according to Sang Kelembai (or somewhere else that I've read from).