Protecting the Integrity of the African Unity (AU): Swaziland Forced to Withdraw Candidate from the AU Election
Date: January 7, 2008
Behind the scenes protest against the nomination of the former Prime Minister of Swaziland for the AU leadership election has yielded results. The Government of Swaziland has now withdrawn Dlamini's nomination for the Chairperson of the AU election due in January, 2007.
Unfortunately, the Swazi government has not been honest about its decision to withdraw Dlamini's nomination. It has promoted the story that it took this decision in support of a unified Southern African Development Community (SADC) campaign to present one candidate from the region. However, this explanation is not consistent with the Swazi government's behaviour. For example, why did it wait until the last minute before withdrawing its nomination of Dlamini? Furthermore, if the government believed that Dlamini was a strong candidate for the position, it should have been promoting him as the consensus candidate for Southern Africa and lobbying for regional support. Instead, the government pulled him out of the election race altogether.
The government's story is thus at odds with its behaviour and highly dubious. However, to most observers, the reason for its action is obvious. The Swazi government withdrew its nomination of Dlamini because it was unable to attract support for his campaign. The SADC and AU are organisations committed to democratic governance. If they had supported Dlamini's candidacy, the integrity and credibility of these organisations would have been severely undermined because of his terrible record in office and the refusal by Swaziland's dictatorship to adhere to SADC and AU principles of democracy.
Since his appointment as Swazi Prime Minister in 1996, Dlamini presided over some of the worst political crises in Swazi history and his government was marred by controversies and bad judgements. From 1996 to 2003, he led the authoritarian regime and he is currently a member of King Mswati III's Advisory Council, a body that has vigorously opposed the transition from royal authoritarianism to democracy. Selected from the royal family inner circles, the Advisory Council is the monarchy's eye of power making sure that public institutions and citizens conform to the royal authoritarian system. As a result, the Advisory Council exercises enormous political
influence in Swaziland's politics and is well known for its ruthless intolerance of political dissent. Dlamini also served in previous governments as Minister of Finance (1983-1992) including the notorious Liqoqo regime known for its brutality against government critics, corruption and disregard for the rule of law. Human rights abuses under the Liqoqo regime between 1983 and 1986 are well documented by various international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International. As Minister of Finance, Dlamini was responsible for the growth of a culture of corruption in government and lavish royal spending with dire economic consequences. Today, this culture is well entrenched and continues to paralyse the economy and government services.
In his term as Prime Minister, he was known for extravagant spending on royal luxuries. In 2002, the local and international communities were horrified by Dlamini's secret authorisation of the purchase of a private jet for the royal family at a cost of E450 million (US$45 million). This was a morally bankrupt decision which clearly demonstrated the government's insensibility to the effects of the drought conditions and the HIV epidemic on the general population.
However, Dlamini is probably most infamous for his exercise of naked power in 2000 and 2002 when he ruthlessly suppressed freedom of the press, political freedom and judicial independence. On February 17, 2000 the government closed down the state-owned newspaper, The Swazi Observer, for refusing to reveal sources of articles relating to the Royal Swaziland Police secret activities. A year later, on May 4, 2001, Dlamini's government closed down two independent media groups, The Nation and Guardian of Swaziland, for publishing stories criticising human rights abuses and lavish spending by the government and royal family. In September 1999, the government charged the Times Sunday Editor, Bheki Makhubu, with criminal defamation for publishing an article in which he described King Mswati III's fiancée as a high school drop-out.
As Prime Minister, Dlamini was the architect of the infamous Decree No.2, 2001, a law designed to strengthen the authoritarian position of the absolute monarchy government. Under this Decree, publication of materials containing criticisms of the system of government and its leadership were prohibited. Even the production and publication of satirical materials relating to the royal family such as impersonating the king were declared to be criminal offences punishable with a 10-year jail term. The Decree also gave the Minister of Information the power to unilaterally proscribe media organisations which failed to observe these prohibitions. Thus Decree No.2 reflects the ambition of an over zealous dictatorial regime to rule by fear. To all intents and purposes, the Decree was designed to renew the climate of fear generated by the King's Proclamation of 1973 which had been significantly weakened by the democratic movement led by PUDEMO. Hence Decree No.2 bears all the hallmarks of the 1973 Proclamation which made it a criminal offence to exercise freedom of thought in Swaziland. Ultimately, Decree No.2 was withdrawn because of sustained local and international condemnation. However, parts of this Decree such as the controversial Non-Bailable Order were incorporated into Decree No.3, 2001 which, in 2002 to 2004, was one of the key issues at the centre of the rule of law crisis. As the then Prime Minister, Dlamini must be held directly responsible for this crisis.
From 2002 to 2004, the rule of law in Swaziland was severely harmed when the former Prime Minister abandoned all judicial procedures in preference to brute political force. In what can best be described as a ruthless assault on the integrity of the judiciary, Dlamini declared on November 28, 2002 that the Government of His Majesty would not respect the Court of Appeal judgements relating to three cases – the Non-Bailable Offences Order, the mass eviction of families from Kamkhweli and Macetjeni areas and the committal of senior police officers to imprisonment for contempt of court. In his public address to the nation on November 28, 2002, the former Prime Minister ordered all law enforcement sectors to disobey the Court of Appeals rulings, creating a crisis in the rule of law hitherto unseen in Swaziland's judicial history. All judges of the Court of Appeal resigned in protest against this display of brute political attack on the independence of the judiciary. For two years, Swaziland had no functioning Court of Appeal. Details of these cases can be found in the Amnesty International Report (AFR 55/004/2004) and PUDEMO Report (September 28, 2004).
Clearly, Dlamini is not a suitable candidate for the AU position given his disastrous record in government. This record renders him completely unfit for public office and he should have not been recommended in the first place. Africa, particularly SADC, must be congratulated for its commitment to protecting the AU's integrity by refusing to endorse this tin-pot dictator to take the reins of the organisation.
As an organisation committed to democratic governance and political transparency, we are obliged to expose Dlamini's record and make sure that he is quarantined from international leadership responsibilities. We have an obligation to the people of Africa to protect the integrity of the AU as a forward looking organisation committed to political, economic and social progress. The quality of leaders at the helm of the AU is crucial to achieving the organisation's goals and building its global credibility.
Dr. Jabulane Matsebula
Australia, Asia and the South Pacific Region