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Destitute nation’s king holds birthday extravaganza

  One of the interesting things about Swaziland is how little the opinion of outsiders seems to mean to those in power.  I saw this news story yesterday about King Mswati's birthday. I read it and thought, "I wish I could have introduced him to the woman I met a couple o…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
One of the interesting things about Swaziland is how little the opinion of outsiders seems to mean to those in power.  I saw this news story yesterday about King Mswati's birthday. I read it and thought, "I wish I could have introduced him to the woman I met a couple of months ago dying of AIDS in a shack. Or I wish he could have held baby Moses before he died."
Maybe he just doesn't realize that his nation is dying or how the mothers feel to see their children die.  And I wonder if holding baby Moses would have changed the way he so freely spent Swaziland's resources to celebrate his birthday.  But then I look at the Church in America and it's hard to cast stones. We spend a small fraction of our total tithes on widows and orphans.  So, I guess if we want to start somewhere we start with ourselves.  What do you think?
MBABANE, Swaziland (AP) — The Swazi king, dressed in traditional leopard skins and whisked around in an open-topped BMW, celebrated his 40th birthday and his nation's 40th independence day with lavish glee Saturday — hosting an extravaganza that contrasted sharply with the biting poverty of his subjects.

King Mswati III toured the national stadium to cheers and flag-waving. Tens of thousands of Swazi maidens who had performed for the king last weekend at the annual Reed Dance were at the festivities, which included traditional dancing and drumming and a full military parade.

"I'm aware that many in the world might be wondering why we are so excited about the celebrations of our 40th anniversary," the king told the crowd. "The answer is simple. We are celebrating our nationhood."

However, the so-called 40-40 party was preceded by demonstrations against its excessive cost in a country that has the world's highest AIDS rate and where only one in four Swazis lives to be 40.

The cost was officially put at $2.5 million, but it was widely believed to be at least five times more. There was special anger at the jet-set shopping spree by eight of the king's 13 wives to Dubai to purchase birthday outfits, and the fleet of luxury cars bought to carry VIPs around.

Visiting heads of state were whisked into the stadium in a long convoy. The loudest cheer was reserved for Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who climbed out of a car with a "Zimbabwe" number plate to a standing ovation. The 84-year-old autocrat is popular in the region because he is seen as standing up to the West.

Mswati is Africa's last absolute monarch. He is widely revered but there is anger about the luxurious lifestyle practiced by him and his 13 wives.

One in five Swazis now depend on international food aid, partly because AIDS has devastated rural areas and led to an explosion in child-headed households who can't tend the fields.

Life expectancy has nearly halved since 1998 because of the AIDS epidemic and is now less than 31 years, according to U.N. figures.

Comments (19)

  • I received an email from a good friend in England about this today. It’s making the pages of newspapers around the world. This is incredibly pathetic. Wouldn’t want to ever stand before my maker if I was this guy.

  • made me sad every time i stopped by the Royal Swazi. those people aren’t seeing the real Swaziland.
    i love this country!

  • I saw the title to this blog, and I had a feeling I knew what it was about. Along that same vein that you touch on briefly – starting with ourselves – on January 20th, the US will inaugurate a new president. In Washington, D.C., there are likely to be upwards of four inaugural ball ‘sites’ because they can’t fit everyone into one grand location. Imagine for a moment… if we in the US took just a portion of the funds that go toward the pomp and circumstance of showing the world we are a free nation, and put that toward rebuilding families, feeding people, providing basic medical care and focusing more on educating our citizens about how the rest of the world lives… how many more people would be called to help nations like Swaziland? And how many more people would be in a position to help those who have been called?

    As always Seth, thank you for bringing these things to our attention and making us THINK!!!

  • I think your first question was on track… if we want to start somewhere shouldn’t we start with ourselves? What do we think about the extravagant spending habits, not just of American’s, but of American churches? I read that a popular female “Christian” pastor/author/speaker has a toilet seat that costs enough to feed an entire orphanage.

    But then, who gets to draw the “line” on what is extravagant? I have a pretty nice car. I go to restaurants from time to time and spend in a single meal in America what could perhaps feed a family for a month in Swazi.

    I think this is a vital question? And one that clearly does not have a simple answer. OR DOES IT? What did the Acts church do? They shared everything? How do we live that out in our lives in the Western World in 2008? We say it is more complicated in today’s culture. Perhaps. But, do we think it was simple for them in the first century?

    Sorry, no real answers here… just more questions!

  • Courtney (June 07 WR)

    I read this article previous to you putting it up on your blog. However, reading it again just breaks my heart one more time.
    I spent 2 months in Swaziland and almost 6 weeks in Nsoko. We saw the poverty, hopelessness and despair everyday as we walked through the carepoints and near our homestead. We lived on a ranch surrounded by local Swazi’s struggling to survive.
    My heart is broken for these people and for this man. May God have mercy on him and on us for not putting God and others before our own selfish ambitions.

  • Good questions, Kelly. Thanks for the blog, Seth. Very challenging when we begin to point the fingers back at ourselves. Incidentally, I blogged today about being an initiator of change in the areas of our greatest criticism. While we can’t do everything we can and ought to do something. So, yeah, why not start with us and see what we can accomplish together, while maintaining a certain humility about us that says, “I still have way more than I probably need. Lord, forgive me.”

  • I posted this article on facebook; reading it made me angry.

    Then I read this phrase of yours, “But then I look at the Church in America and it’s hard to cast stones. We spend a small fraction of our total tithes on widows and orphans. So, I guess if we want to start somewhere we start with ourselves.”

    Thanks for pointing out the blind spot.

  • We watched “Without the King” on Sat night, and it too shows the overwhelming discrepancy between the king’s lavish lifestyle, and that of his people. “Without the King” interviewed MANY revolutionaries that do have plans in the making. The documentary showed footage of the revolutions in Rwanda and in some other African countries. It was devastating the footage they showed. It was making the point that the Swazi revolutionaries have had many examples go before them and are weighing the consequences of revolution. They know what they are up against…and there are no easy answers.

    Kevin also forwarded me an article that was published in the kings very own newspaper that he owns and pays for…Kev said the fact that it was published in THAT particular paper on the same weekend as the 40/40 was HUGE. The article was telling the king to start listening to his people are there was going to be big trouble ahead.

    “Mugabe” …is popular in the region because he is seen as standing up to the west.”?????

    Is he going to stop allowing people into the country as it gets worse for him? It is going to get worse…history repeats itself…and we all know how this situation ends…I don’t know why he doesn’t see that. There is a reason why Mswati is the last of his kind.

    As far as the church being no different…I feel that!!

  • That is really sad to see such a selfish waste of funds. There is a lot of work needed to be done in there, and in Africa as a whole. I’m helping two charity organizations myself, Africa As One and African United Partnerships, and while doing some research it is really sad when you see things like this. Just think of all the things they could accomplish if people weren’t so greedy. Like you said, AIDS is rapidly spreading there, mostly from Mother to Child Transmission (MTCT). If they focused on treatment for that, they could drastically reduce the amount of people with AIDS/HIV. Sadly, though, we see them spending money on cars, nice houses, etc. Sigh…

  • terrible. i did not learn a thing while reading this. it did not make my day. its all about that frowny face.

  • I was on staff at a church where less than 1% of the entire budget went to hands on ministry outside the 4 walls. The yearly budget was $320,000 and over 1/2 that went to the salaries and benefits of two men, the pastor and worship leader. Our youth ministry budget the year I left was $0…

    After paying for the building and operating costs there was nothing left. Yeah, it’s hard to cast stones at a lost king when the Church in America does about as well with finances while watching the world die in poverty.

    Great post!

  • I was at the Mbabane hospital this summer. I saw the condition in the children there and even had one die in the arms of a girl on my team. It’s the Swazis without a voice that get hurt the most.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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