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The events of the past few days and months have got me wondering whether our progressive movements understand true democratic principles.

I am a strong believer in the principles of democracy. The word democracy comes from the Greek words ‘demos’, meaning people, and ‘kratos’, meaning power. So democracy can be thought of as ‘power of the people’; a way of governing which depends on the free will of the people. No one must feel intimidated, marginalised or disadvantaged. The reality is that political systems of the world have evolved differently over time to suit the needs of the people they intend to serve. The downfall of Africa has been the belief that what is good for the western nations is automatically good for Africa. EmaSwati need to develop and improve their own system, taking from the west what is good and rejecting what is bad.

The concepts of national policy conferences and national elective conferences are what would be very good for emaSwati . We could marry them with our Sibaya dialogues and modernise Sibaya. It could be held for seven days of deliberations where the policy conference would come out with the policies to give to an elected prime minister, even if he is elected directly via Tinkhundla. The present thinking that political parties will have a strongman, who will tell emaSwati what his political party will do for them is very wrong and divisive. The nation should come together as one with representatives from all groupings to debate their aspirations and come up with policies that must be implemented. The elective conference would then choose from the nominated and elected Members of Parliament (MPs), including those appointed by the King (as they represent special groups like chiefs and minorities), who would be the prime minister, to implement the policies. His Majesty  King Mswati III would than appoint him or her  and ask them  to form a government.

Liberation politics

The general perception has been the belief that the only way to liberation is to have democracy, which is true. However, the other side of this coin has been the suggestion that the only way to democracy is to have multiparty politics. The perception further suggests that the more political parties a country has, the more democratic it is. Most developed countries have only two big parties, why? They also have something that unites them above the party politics. In the US it’s the delegate system. In the UK and other European countries it’s their monarchies. In Japan it’s their emperor. In Israel and India, it’s their president who is elected outside party politics and  is not affiliated to any political party. Our monarchy must remain our centre but must be out of day to day  politics.

Local political parties

The events surrounding the local political parties have been disappointing and simply frightening; and have indeed shown a negative side to party politics. When one looks at the way the parties have split within months of formation is very disappointing. Even the conservative Mangololo split, within months. EmaSwati have not had an opportunity to get the policies of the political party and then learn that it has split. New leaders and parties are introduced but it would appear that they are all about individuals not policies. Yes, the central theme has been the change of the political system. The most dangerous phenomenon is the intolerance towards differing views; even towards their fellow progressives. There is a belief that it is okay to get your way through the use of violence. This is not democratic because it shows that people not ready for the ballot box and the results thereof.  The will of the people will not be respected, if things don’t go their way. As a democrat and a believer in democratic principles, I am very afraid that Eswatini is heading toward a deferent form of dictatorship and violence.

Eswatini’s political system

In the absence of formal civic education, we need to improve our African system first before we can criticise it and condemn it to the dust bin. Hence we must pray that ‘Labadzala’ will realise this sooner than later. The general narrative has been that the only way to democracy is to scrap the Tinkhundla system and introduce the multiparty political system.  We need to analyse this in view of how other African countries have developed using the multiparty system in the past 50 years since independence. Asian countries have done much better than Africa and did not blindly embrace multiparty politics but took what was good for them. Where did Africans go wrong? One of the mistakes with African politics is that it’s about individuals (strongman politics) and not collective policies for the development of their countries.

King Sobhuza II had sought to introduce the Tinkhundla political system to maintain a democracy based on African culture, traditions and the role of the monarchy. He had hoped that it would evolve and to some extent it evolved with the introduction of direct parliamentary elections and later a Constitution on October 4, 2005. What are tinkhundla centres? They are basically constituencies, communities or districts, dividing the whole country just like any country. Tinkhundla centres are for the administration and dissemination of services to the population and the administration of the elections. Even if the nation decides to use political parties to vote for the prime minister, the tinkhundla centres would still be used as election and campaigning centres. The greatest downfall of the Tinkhundla system remains the undemocratic nature of the appointment of the prime minister and government, not parliamentary representation. Otherwise, the system and its Constitution remain one of the most democratic systems in Africa. We need to sit down as emaSwati and decide the best way to amend the Constitution, elect a government and convince the King to simply bless it and allow it to do govern. Comment septembereswatini@gmail.com

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