afrol News, 28 January - Schoolchildren in Swaziland are finally let to attend school after the absolute monarch, King Mswati III, had deferred the reopening of schools by a week. The Swazi children first had to finish weeding in the royal fields. Meanwhile, the King is meeting growing critiques on his increasingly controversial politics.
Swazi school were supposed to reopen on Monday, 19 January, after seasonal vacations. This was however promptly denied by King Mswati, who first postponed the reopening by one week to enable schoolboys "to complete royal duties assigned to them by the King." These "royal duties" in practical terms were the weeding of the royal fields.
Following yet another postponement, Swazi schools finally reopened their doors yesterday as the children had weeded all the King's fields. Weeding the royal fields marks the end of the annual sacred Swazi Incwala ceremony, which begins with the eating of the first fruit.
More than 30,000 students and their parents were affected, as they had already prepared to send their children to school last Tuesday, only to be told that the buildings would remain closed for a further week.
- I have no problem with culture, but it should be dynamic and must not supersede daily routines that makes the country tick, commented Mario Masuku, the leader of Swaziland's opposition and a parent, according to the UK-based Local Government International Bureau (LGIB). "Such behaviour deserves to be condemned at all costs. This is a clear sign of absolute dictatorship," added Mr Masuku.
Palace functionaries however maintained the decision to open the schools late was taken by the Ministry of Education, but opposition groups dismissed that claim.
- Government agencies work at the behest of the palace, an opposition member told UN agencies in Mbabane. "If King Mswati knew about the disruption of the school year and, if he were at all concerned, he could have ordered the schools open," he added.
The Swazi opposition further took note that King Mswati's children attend private schools, which were not affected by the delay in the reopening of public schools. Three of the King's children, attend private schools in London.
The Swazi government however further puts the blame for the poor situation of the country's pupils and students on others than itself. The Minister of Education, Constance Simelane, recently publicly ordered schools to admit orphans and the poor without paying, in a bid to demonstrate her vigour.
This was however rejected as impossible by the Head Teachers' Association of Swaziland, which noted that no extra funding had been provided. The association told the 'Times of Swaziland' that following the Ministry's promise of free education last year, most schools were promised money. This had however never arrived.
The dispositions of King Mswati have been increasingly noted internationally during the last few years as the Kingdom is experiencing a crisis provoked by years of drought, high HIV infection rates and spreading poverty. Swaziland is increasingly dependent on foreign aid and donations, a fact that has not prevented the King from boosting his private spending.
King Mswati made headlines in 2002, as he was to spend government funds, exceeding the national health budget, on a luxury jet aircraft for personal representation use. The decision caused protests among donors, funding agencies and within the government of Swaziland.
During the last month, the Swazi King again made headlines by ordering the construction of eleven palaces, one for each of his royal wives. This was known as it became clear that yet another harvest would fail due to drought in the Kingdom, thus making the Swazi population dependent on food aid yet another year.
The lack of democracy and labour rights also has given the Swazi palace much unwanted international attention during the last years. Trade unions and opposition parties have been illegalised as they have protested the King's absolute powers. International support to these protests has contributed to the ongoing legal reforms, which foresee a Swazi constitution.
King Mswati reacted to these developments this weekend while delivering his annual speech on the state of the Kingdom. He commented that Swazis who aired the nation's problems, meaning the opposition and the media, "might seem like heroes in their own eyes, but they are mocking themselves."
The King added that these "cowardly messengers" that were "tarnishing" the Kingdom's international image would "live shortened lives" because they had incurred the wrath of God and the ancestral spirits, UN agencies in Mbabane report. He made no reference to the AIDS crisis, the ongoing drought and spreading poverty in his state of the Kingdom speech.
afrol News - It is called "financial inclusion", and it is a key government policy in Rwanda. The goal is that, by 2020, 90 percent of the population is to have and actively use bank accounts. And in only four years, financial inclusion has doubled in Rwanda.
afrol News - The UN's humanitarian agencies now warn about a devastating famine in Sudan and especially in South Sudan, where the situation is said to be "imploding". Relief officials are appealing to donors to urgently fund life-saving activities in the two countries.
afrol News - Fear is spreading all over West Africa after the health ministry in Guinea confirmed the first Ebola outbreak in this part of Africa. According to official numbers, at least 86 are infected and 59 are dead as a result of this very contagious disease.
afrol News - It is already a crime being homosexual in Ethiopia, but parliament is now making sure the anti-gay laws will be applied in practical life. No pardoning of gays will be allowed in future, but activist fear this only is a signal of further repression being prepared.
afrol News / Africa Renewal - Ethiopia's ambitious plan to build a US$ 4.2 billion dam in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, 40 km from its border with Sudan, is expected to provide 6,000 megawatts of electricity, enough for its population plus some excess it can sell to neighbouring countries.