Monday, April 16, 2007

It's Good To Be King

Swaziland, the smallest country in Africa, is entirely landlocked, squeezed between South Africa and Mozambique. Wealthy by African standards it is nevertheless one of the poorest countries in the world, ravaged by drought and AIDS. Swaziland has the lowest life expectancy in the world, at just over 33 years.

To any student of royalty (such as myself) though, the example of Swaziland, not to mention the story of Mswati III, ranks as truly exceptional.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe Swazi royal family, of which the king is the head, rule by decree, making Mswati III the last absolute monarch in Africa. Despite this, the Queen Mother (the Indlovukazi, or Great She-Elephant) wields extraordinary power as a sort of spiritual figurehead. The rules of succession are fascinating; I must have read the Wikipedia entry ten times, and I'm still shaking my head.

He is one of 210 sons by his father Sobhuza II, who had 70 wives and over a thousand grandchildren at the time of his death, from pneumonia, in 1982. There followed a period of regency; Mswati ascended the throne in 1986.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketKing Mswati has recently married his 13th wife, Phindile Nkambule, despite the controversy surrounding their courtship. A couple of years ago he passed a law to combat the spread of AIDS by forbidding persons under the age of 18 to have sex, then promptly became engaged to the then 17-year-old Phindile. That they met at the Reed Dance, a ceremony in which the young girls of the nation honour the Indlovukazi rankled some, especially she wasn't the first of his brides so chosen.

The King's lavish lifestyle has also drawn fire; he commands a fleet of limousines, and spends a fortune outfitting lavish mansions for his growing coterie of wives. Otherwise he seems to be drawing the country toward constitutionality, or at least as much as is possible under an absolute monarch of a nation still essentially tribal in nature. There is little press freedom, but neither are there clampdowns such as those seen in Zimbabwe, for example.

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