King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland (eSwatini), was snubbed by 20 heads of state who failed to accept his invitation to attend a trade launch.
The Swazi Government, which is not elected but picked by the King, was so confident they would attend it hired 18 top-of-the range cars to transport them while they were in Swaziland.
Media in the undemocratic kingdom revealed that many of the heads of state (sitting presidents and prime ministers) had at first accepted the invitation to the opening of an eTrade regional office but did not show.
The Sunday edition of the Times of eSwatini reported those who at first accepted included Zambia’s President Lungu and Guinea President Alpha Condé. It said, ‘Government went all out to ensure that these very important people would receive dignified treatment once they arrived in the kingdom.’
No heads of state attended and the only ‘VIPs’ who actually attended were former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Chief Executive Officer of the Africa eTrade Group, Mulualem Syoum, it reported.
The Times reported Minister of Commerce, Industry and Trade Manqoba Khumalo, ‘confirmed that 20 heads of state had been invited but those that either eventually arrived or sent representatives were five.’ He said they were not heads of states, but ministers.
Khumalo said 18 cars had been hired for the dignitaries. They included Lexus SUVs and BMW 5 series vehicles.
The King received another snub in February 2019 when it was announced Swaziland had missed out to South Africa on the chance to host the 2020 African Union summit. Media in South Africa said this was because Swaziland did not have the resources to fulfil the role.
It is no secret that Swaziland is broke. Hospitals have run out of vital drugs and schools have been forced to close because the government has not paid its suppliers. In his budget speech in March 2018 Finance Minister Martin Dlamini said government owed E3.1bn (US$230 million) in total to its suppliers for goods and services.
Public servants have been striking for a 7.8 percent cost-of-living pay rise but the government says it does not have the money and has offered zero percent. Police brutally attacked workers during legal protests.
In 2016, when King Mswati was Chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) he took about E40m, mostly from public funds, to host a lavish Heads of State summit at a time when his government was so poor it could release only E22m of the E305m earmarked for drought relief in that year’s national budget.
The Times of Swaziland reported in 2017 that the Swaziland Government spent E29 million (US$2.4 million) on 14 BMW cars and 80 motorbikes for the SADC summit. The vehicles were left idle after the summit ended.