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The kingdom of Swaziland is one of the world's
last remaining absolute monarchies.
Its king rules by
decree over his million subjects, most of whom
live in the countryside and follow traditional
ways of life.
The power of the
throne, however, has not gone unchallenged.
King Sobhuza scrapped
the constitution in 1973 and banned political parties.
King Mswati has shown
no enthusiasm for sharing power, but banned opposition
parties and trade unions have been vocal in their
demands for greater democracy and limits on the king's
With peaceful change
in neighbouring South Africa and Mozambique, Swaziland
has been described as an island of dictatorship in a sea
of democracy. Royalists have argued that democracy
creates division, and that a monarch is a strong
constitution, signed by the king in 2005 and introduced
in 2006, cemented his rule.
Swaziland is virtually
homogenous, most of the population being of the same
tribe. Economically, it relies on South Africa, which
receives almost half of Swazi exports and supplies most
of its imports.
Many Swazis live in
chronic poverty and food shortages are widespread. Aids
is taking a heavy toll with more than 40% of the
population believed infected with HIV. The virus has
killed many workers and farmers and has created
thousands of orphans. Life expectancy has plummeted.
King Mswati III was
crowned in 1986 at the age of 18, succeeding his
long-serving father King Sobhuza II, who died at the age
The king, who is known
as Ngweyama - "the lion" - often appears in public in
traditional dress and has many wives.
He rules by decree and
has been criticised for the heavy-handed treatment of
opponents. The king has also been criticised for
requesting public money to pay for new palaces, a
personal jet and luxury cars. Street protests led him to
abandon the aircraft purchase.
State control of the
media is strong. The government controls all radio and
TV stations with the exception of a Christian radio
Freedom of expression
in the press is seriously restricted. Media watchdog
Reporters Without Borders says the sole private daily is
largely given over to "news trivia, entertainment and
sports". "Criticising the king is inconceivable," it