SWAZILAND: ‘I want a new image for Swaziland’
Surrounded on three sides by big neighbor South Africa, and with Mozambique to the east, Swaziland is a small kingdom of less than 1.2 million people on a piece of land slightly smaller than New Jersey. Sadly, it is known mainly for its negatives, such as having the world’s leading rate of HIV/AIDS infection, estimated at around 40 percent of the population, and a monarch who has been seen as insensitive to the needs of his people, ruling with close to absolute authority while marrying wife after wife and spending the nation’s treasure on palaces, planes and automobiles.
Swaziland’s new ambassador to Washington, Ephraim M. Hlophe, is eager to set the record straight. He says the picture of Swaziland has been distorted by the press focusing on only negatives, without an understanding of the history and culture of the country. “I want a new image for Swaziland,” he says.
One of his first moves on arriving in Washington last year was to contact members of Congress about setting up a Congressional Caucus on Swaziland. With a group of US legislators that are educated about his country, he believes Washington will be able to engage more constructively with it. He notes that there are only three other African countries that benefit from a group of congressmen specialized in their affairs (Uganda, Kenya and Sudan), and he hopes Swaziland becomes the fourth.
Other plans in hand include development of a web site for the embassy where he will be able to place information about his country that will balance the critical stories that are typical in the mass media. He also wants the embassy to have a focus on business promotion for Swaziland.
Regarding the high rate of HIV/AIDS in Swaziland, he says that while most patients in the country’s hospitals are indeed suffering from the affects of HIV infection, the estimates of infection rates are little more than guestimates and more precise data should be available in the spring. He notes that while HIV/AIDS was at first not taken as a serious threat, especially in rural areas, it is now universally recognized as the killer it is, and rural folk, who account for some 80 percent of the population, call it a “predator.”
Swazis continue to need education about the disease, he says, and the government has adopted a comprehensive plan to tackle it, based on the ABC method (Abstain, Be faithful, use Condoms) made famous by Uganda in its successful battle against HIV/AIDS. “If you provide condoms in a government facility, by the end of the week they will all be gone,” he says, stressing that Swazis have come to embrace the virtue of protected sex. This is encouraging if accompanied by a recognition that a promiscuous lifestyle carries with it high risks of infection, he says.
But, the ambassador notes, “We still need the help of the international community” to combat the disease effectively, including the provition of expensive retroviral drugs.
In some respects, Swazis seem stuck between tradition and reality. The king has traditionally had a succession of wives. The ruler since 1986, is King Mswati III. He was one of dozens of princes but was helped in securing the throne by his powerful mother, Queen Ntombi, who still wields considerable influence, as is customary for a Swazi queen mother. Her husband, the previous king, was said to have had at least 99 wives living at the time of his death. The ambassador explained that it is a royal custom for there always to be a new, young wife with the king. What’s more, the king will not marry the woman unless she is already pregnant by him, guaranteeing progeny.
But a polygamous ruler may have some difficulty in persuading his subjects to adopt monogamous and chaste lifestyles, in the name of reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS. This and complaints about the king’s absolute power and lavish spending, including on “palaces” for his wives and cars for himself, have fueled an opposition movement which has focused a spotlight on the negatives surrounding the Swazi system of government and attracted considerable international attention.
In January this year, Swaziland adopts a new constitution, approved by the parliament and signed by the king last year. It will give more power to an elected parliament and put to a national referendum the option of changing the country from its present one-party rule to a multiparty system. The new constitution provides for a balance of power through an independent parliament, judiciary and executive.
Currently, the bi-cameral parliament has an upper house with 20 of 30 members appointed by the king, and the other 10 appointed by parliament, while the lower house has 10 members appointed by the king (mainly chiefs and other leading citizens) and 55 elected by the public.
Under the new constitution, the power of the king over parliament will be limited and at least 30 percent of the members must be women, a major development for a country that has traditionally been male-dominated. Women will also gain other rights in the new constitution, including owning property, taking out loans and signing contracts. The constitution includes a Bill of Rights, that includes freedom of association.
Ambassador Hlophe says that among the media distortions is reporting on “palaces” the king builds for his wives. They are nothing more than normal homes that the king provides for his spouses to be able to live with dignity.
He also underlines the apparent loyalty of most Swazis to the monarch. “Without the king there is no Swaziland,” he says. This view is supported by the limited success of the opposition. Last year, attempts by the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions to mobilize support against the constitutional reformation process, which they saw as manipulated by the king, engendered only anemic support and were eventually dropped. This year, several opposition leaders have been arrested amid accusations that the government is cracking down on banned movements that, for now at least, take the place of parties.
The royal family and its traditions are part of deeply established culture, which Swaziland has preserved for hundreds of years. Other traditions include the sacred Incwala Ceremony, or the eating of the first fruits, held towards the end of each year. Another is Umhlanga (the reed dance), performed by Swazi maidens in late summer.
Meanwhile, a surge in the economy driven by rising textile exports in recent years, under the umbrella of AGOA, took a nosedive last year when China, freed from US quotas, began flooding world markets with its apparel products. Half of the 31,000 textile-related jobs in Swaziland were lost in 2005, and many companies folded.
The ambassador says that Swaziland now wants to focus on value-added industries, using its sugar and woodpulp, as well as new areas for industry, which might include reopening diamond and iron ore mining, held in limbo recently by prospecting and licensing disputes that should be resolved under rules set down in the new constitution. Swaziland also has unexploited deposits of coal. With almost 40 percent unemployment and an estimated 70 percent of the population living under the poverty line, more jobs for Swazis are desperately needed to reduce poverty and the outflow of Swazi workers to neighboring South Africa and elsewhere.
He says a new international airport in Swaziland will be finished in 2007, and it will help greatly in getting visitors to recognize the value of traveling directly to his country, rather than through Johannesburg, as most have in the past. For one, Swaziland is developing its tourism sector and, he points out, South Africa’s famous Kruger National Park is nearer to Swaziland than to Johannesburg.
The ambassador notes that Swaziland has a good infrastructure and plenty of water and electricity, much of it hydro. These and the 300 million people of the southern African market that can be accessed through Swaziland’s membership in SACU, the Southern African Customs Union (whose members are South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland and Namibia), and SADC, the Southern African Development Community.
He says that the government plans for Swaziland to be a high middle income country by 2020, providing a good quality of life to all its people.
Curriculum Vitae of Ephraim Mandla Hlophe
Ambassador of Swaziland to the United States
Masters Degree in Public and International Affairs University of Pittsburgh United States of America 1986/88 (majoring in Economics and Social Development).
Post Graduate Diploma in Management Eastern and Southern Management Institute, Arusha, Tanzania 1980/81.
Diploma in Management Science Institute of Management Services 1982/83 London, United Kingdom.
Professional courses completed
Attended Senior Leader Seminar on Strategic Studies focusing on National Security and Strategy formulation and analysis, January/February 2001
Planning and Management of Rural Development University of Pittsburgh USA (1987).
Organisation and Methods and Job Evaluation Techniques, Royal Institute of Public Administration, UK
International Personnel Management (Royal Institute of Public Administration UK 1975 RIPA), 1975.
Advanced Postal Management, Zomba, Malawi, 1974.
Member of the Institute of Management Services (UK). (Fellow)
Member of the Institute of Personnel Management (Swaziland and South Africa)
Experience and positions held
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary – Washington DC
September 2005 – to date
Principal Secretary, Ministry of Economic Planning and Development
1994 – August 2005
Chairing and managing of the Millennium Technical Committee reporting to His Excellency the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister. (Managing and Implementing Strategic Development Projects specializing on Infrastructure and Tourism Development.
SADC National Contact Point
European Development Fund (EDF) National Authorizing Officer
EDF Regional Authorising Officer (Signatory on behalf of Government pertaining to all financial and Economic Agreements except for Loans)
Alternate Governor of the World Bank /MIGA
Principal Secretary, Ministry of Public Works and Construction
1991 - 1994
Director, Management Services Division
Under Secretary, Ministry of Health
1987 - 1991
Under Secretary, Directorate of Personnel Management
1984 - 1986 (during which acting Principal Secretary for long periods)
Senior Management Services Officer, Ministry of Labour and Public Service
1983 - 1984 (Senior Government Management Analyst)
Management Services Officer
1980 - 1983
Assistant Management Services Officer
1978 - 1980
Head of Personnel Services Department of Posts and Telecommunications
1976 - 1978
Personnel Officer Posts and Telecommunications
1974 - 1976
Postmaster, MBABANE, Swaziland
1972 - 1974
Served in various technical positions
1965 - 1973
Major assignments undertaken
Responsible for the Economic Review Commission for the Government of Swaziland (Guduza Economic Commission)
ii. Overall Principal Officer of the Formulation and Operationalization National Development Strategy of Swaziland, 25 Year Vision (NDS)
iii. Overall Responsible Officer for Formulation and operationalization of the Poverty Assessment and Poverty Alleviation Programme supported by the World Bank
iv. Member of the Swaziland Population Council
v. Appointed Chairman of Millennium projects
vi. Chairman of the Swaziland Salary Survey and Review Commission 1985/1986
vii. Chairman of the Steering Committee set up by Government to review the Public Service Pensions Act of (1968)
viii. Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Swaziland Provident Fund (while acting as Principal Secretary) (Ex-officio, P.S. Public Service and Information)
ix. Member of the National Public Budget Committee.
x. Board Member of the Institute Development Management (Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland)
xi. Member and Secretary of the Swaziland Salary Review Committee (1977).
xii. Member of the University Council (University of Swaziland)
xiii. Active involvement in the formulation and operationalization of the SADC (RSDP)
Member of various Royal Delegations including the introduction of SMART partnership with the private sector, investment promotion missions.
Leader of many organizational studies in Ministries and Departments of the Swaziland Government while serving as Senior Management analyst.
Leader of officials to Regional States in Central and Southern Africa e.g. Preferential Trade Area and Southern African Development Co-coordinating Conference.
Serves as Resource Lecturer in Specialized Management Studies at SIMPA (e.g. Method Study 0 & M and Performance Appraisal) and Institute of Health Sciences.
Official foreign visits
June/July 1985 Toured the USA under the International Visitors Program sponsored by the State Department / visited both Government and Private organizations including two Universities in 37 States.
SADC Management Assignments: Botswana, Mozambique, Lesotho and Zimbabwe, as well as numerous duty related visits to all Continents.
Special positions and decorations
i. Appointed Chair of the Millennium Technical Committee whose role is to Guide the process leading to the formulation of well selected projects aimed at boosting the Tourism industry, the key road to economic prosperity.
In terms of the Orders Decorations and Medal Regulations, 1971, part 1 section 4 (2) His Majesty King Mswati III awarded me “Counsellor of the Royal Order of Sobhuza II” September, 1998. With this Award, I am positioned to advise on political, economic and social aspects at all levels.
Appointed National Authorising Officer for the management of the European Development Fund, 1991.
Appointed National Contact Point, Southern African Development Community, 1991.
Management and Co-ordination of the Overall Economic and International Co-operation for Swaziland, including multilateral and bilateral relations.
Co-led and chaired the whole process of putting in place an advanced draft Bilateral Economic and Political Commission between the Republic of South Africa and the Kingdom of Swaziland.