Eswatini protests: ‘We are fighting for liberation’ | in Swaziland

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Eswatini protests: ‘We are fighting for liberation’ | in Swaziland

authorities in in Swaziland They vowed to hold a “national dialogue” in a bid to avoid further unrest after dozens were killed and hundreds of businesses burned in weeks of protest in Africa’s only remaining absolute monarchy.

The move was met with skepticism by opposition leaders and analysts, with fears of more violence in the landlocked country of 1.3 million if there are no significant reforms to the authoritarian political system.

The United Nations expressed deep concern on Tuesday over the reaction of the authorities in Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, to recent protests and intermittent looting, and to demand an independent investigation into allegations of “disproportionate and unnecessary use of force, harassment and intimidation” by security forces.

A UN spokesman said the allegations included “police use of live ammunition”, adding that the organization was concerned about “the potential for further unrest”.

Protests mostly by young people in in SwazilandWhich 53-year-old King Mswati ruled for 35 years, began when a law student was murdered in May in circumstances suggesting police involvement. But the unrest escalated dramatically last month when authorities said they would reject any further “petitions” of the king, shutting down one of the few avenues through which complaints and grievances can be voiced in the kingdom.

The protests that followed led to a more general breakdown of law and order, with sporadic arson and looting. With the police overwhelmed, the army was deployed to “restore the rule of law, [restore] “Peace and protection for all,” Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuko said in a statement.

Observers say there are echoes in Eswatini of protests and violence elsewhere in Africa that have pitted educated and connected urban youth against old rulers and elites. In Uganda, where the average age is 17 years, Bobby Wayne, famous singer turned politician, He defied the rule of veteran President Yoweri Museveni and provoked a brutal crackdown. In Nigeria too, a young population with new aspirations for prosperity, security and freedom They took to the streets to protest and faced violence.

We fight for democracy, freedom, jobs and food. Yes, there were some people who tried to use the protests for their own agenda but… they weren’t our people. “We are fighting a liberation struggle, not a robbery,” said a 26-year-old student leader contacted by the Guardian in Eswatini, who requested anonymity for fear of arrest.

The state average age 21 Unemployment is more than 40%. Although the king lives in luxurious luxury, with fleet of luxury cars, Private planes, numerous mansions and 15 wives, nearly 60% of his subjects live in poverty, According to the World Bank. The large royal family also enjoys a lavish lifestyle, and members have unabashedly posted pictures of their extravagance on social media.

Analysts say that although some representatives are elected at the local level, the king actually chooses deputies, controls parliaments and appoints ministers. Opponents have long been silenced by a repressive set of laws, with the largest opposition party, the United People’s Democratic Movement (Pudemo), banned under terrorism laws.

There have been successive waves of protest in Eswatini, including the widespread unrest in 2011 dubbed the “Swazi Spring,” said Menzi Ndlovu, an analyst at Signal Risks, a South African-based threat advisory firm.

“It’s a fairly familiar process. The authorities first crack down and contain, then make some concessions. The goal is basically to maintain the status quo,” Ndlovu said.

However, this time a turning point may have been reached.

The presentation of the National Dialogue is an attempt by the government and the monarchy to appease the masses. “I don’t think there is any intention of serious reforms,” ​​he told the Guardian. “We could see a second wave of protests.”

Officials acknowledge the deaths of at least 27 people, some at the hands of police, others at the hands of security guards appointed to prevent looting. Opposition leaders say at least twice that number have died. It is believed that more than 150 were injured.

Chris Vandom, an expert at London’s Chatham House, said the recent protests differed from early episodes of unrest in which unions and other official organizations played an important role.

“This time it is more organic and less organized. This makes it difficult to control but also difficult for the protesters to have a coherent position on what they want…National dialogue is the first step but does that mean that you respect the legitimacy of the people you are talking to?” he said .

Officials in Eswatini They admitted that there were problems in the kingdom but say the unrest was caused by “terrorists” and “rabble gentlemen” from South Africa.

Mangoba Kumalo, Eswatini’s Senator and Minister of Trade, Industry and Trade, told the Guardian that although the past week had been “terrible”, Eswatini was back to normal.

What is being filmed? [by media outside the kingdom] It is excitement. Some supplies are short and a lot of shops have been burned making things difficult but at the moment there are no protests, no vandalism, nothing looted since Saturday morning.

Kumalo said that security forces intervened when “the authorities learned of a grand plan to spread a chain of destruction” in Eswatini. Without providing evidence, he claimed that the plan included the Economic Freedom Fighters, a radical left-wing political party in neighboring South Africa.

“EFF was bringing in people to lead the destruction who would train and instruct its local branch to do it…we were able to intercept the plan online. We had to protect business and security for all citizens,” the minister said.

The government claims the violence preceded the ban on petitions – although opposition parties deny this, saying the protests turned violent in response to harsh measures and police violence.

Internet access was limited, which strained the connection. Banks and many stores remain closed, hundreds more have been burned, and many gas stations have run out of petrol.

AI branded “A direct attack on human rights” In the former British protectorate, Wandel Dludlow, General Secretary of Bodemo, accused the authorities of a disproportionate response.

“These people are unarmed … … but the amount of force the state responds with, on the grounds that people are looting … … is a shameless dictatorship,” said Dludlow.

Two witnesses contacted by the Guardian reported that police, the military, and some private security guards fired indiscriminately and indiscriminately live ammunition in response to looting and arson attacks directed primarily at businesses linked to the king.

The Swaziland Students’ Union said in a statement that the dead were “unarmed citizens who are sincerely calling for political change”.

Kumalo said it was inevitable that the government “needs to address grievances” through a national dialogue “based on our constitution” but said this could only happen after COVID-19 “recedes”.

He told the Guardian: “We would like to succeed sooner but this will not be imposed on us…by mobs or those who incite violence.”

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