There is growing concern about the ongoing political and security situation in the Kingdom of Eswatini. The past week has seen protests for political reform and against the brutality of the police. Eswatini is Africa’s last absolute monarchy. However, the country has seen a rise in pro-democracy groups since the beginning of the year.

Early this year two pro-democracy Members of Parliament (MPs) were arrested in Eswatini. Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube were arrested during a weekend that saw police harden their stance against pro-democracy movements. They were charged under the country’s Suppression of Terrorism Act. The Police have reportedly issued a warrant of arrest for a third MP, Mduduzi Simelane, of the People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo). These MPs are using their constitutional rights, as well as their right as MPs, to agree to matters which they deem of national interest. All three called for reform of Eswatini’s political structure, and for a multiparty democracy. The three became key figures in the run-up to the protests in June this year that lead to the deaths of at least 50 people, calling on the government to consider protesters’ demands and allow them to deliver petitions to local constituency offices. The government’s ban on petitions ignited the unrest, which led to widespread demonstrations. An end to police brutality was also a rallying call for protesters.

The current renewed wave of protest erupted when Police shot dead a man in a group of commuter bus operators protesting for political reform. School students have been boycotting classes and staging low-key demonstrations for the past month across the country. They are calling for the release of two lawmakers arrested during pro-democracy protests earlier this year.

Anger against King Mswati III has been building for years. During a national dialogue earlier in July 2021, King Mswati III ignored protesters’ demands, instead naming Cleopas Dlamini as the new prime minister. Eswatini has a poverty rate of 69.2 percent. Protestors allege that the King has funded an extravagant lifestyle for

himself and his 15 wives, including a handful of palaces, using public money. However, the King denies accusations of autocratic rule and of using public money to fund a lavish lifestyle in the impoverished nation.

The transport workers were calling for an end to police brutality after a bus driver was reportedly shot dead and another injured during what was initially a wage-protest in the small town of Malkern on Wednesday 13 October 2021. Some roads leading to the capital, Mbabane, were closed and there was a heavy police presence. There were reports that eight activists were allegedly shot dead by the police, while 28 have been injured and many detained. Protesters are talking about unemployment and poverty but the months of sporadic unrest all seem to lead back to calls for democratic reforms in the kingdom. King Mswati III is accused of running a dictatorship and using security forces to intimidate detractors. He’s previously said the protests were illegitimate, a plot to sow divisions among his people. The government has responded by deploying soldiers and police. Soldiers and police have been deployed across schools in Eswatini where students have been protesting for weeks demanding political reforms. King Mswati III has in the past been accused by activists of using violence to clamp down against political dissent, some see the deployment of the army as just that.

Unrest continues. On Friday 15 October the internet was shut down. On Monday 18 October the government announced the indefinite closure of schools.

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