Swaziland. When you say it out loud it sounds like a made up kingdom that you would find in a fairy tale with princes, balls, and commoners that are lucky enough to become princesses. Swaziland does have a fairy tale of its own, but this fairy tale doesn’t have a happy ending.
Swaziland, a constitutional monarchy, is landlocked with its neighbors to the West, South Africa and, to the East, Mozambique. King Mswati III lives the lavish lifestyle of royalty; in place of balls he hosts the traditional Swazi Reed Dance where he may chose a wife. This girl, plucked from obscurity, is showered with gifts, however, she, in turn, must share him with his 13 other wives. Should the proletarians question their King’s luxurious habits, the King reserves the right to mete out swift justice to those questioning his rule.
Beyond the palace walls, Swaziland’s population of 1.1 million is overrun with poverty and more than 1/4 of the population (and 42% of pregnant women) lives with HIV; the highest rate of HIV in the world. The country, too, seems to be impacted by the worldwide recession and in recent days has reduced spending on healthcare, as well as, ARV treatments for HIV patients. With hospitals primed to run out of ARV drugs in two months time, Swaziland’s King is calling on South Africa for a financial bailout. However, it’s neighbors to the South claim that the King is holding on to a secret royal fund worth several billion rand (several hundred million U.S. dollars) that could help curb the financial crisis.
In the meantime, HIV positive Swazis have resorted to eating cow dung mixed with water before taking their ARV drugs in order to maintain compliance with the treatment. For maximum effectiveness, the drug cocktail, requires patients to have food in their stomachs to avoid side effects such as vomiting, dizziness, and stomach cramps. Swazis have taken to the streets in protest of its King’s spending habits and are demanding that the country make health care a priority.
Where do you stand? Do you think it’s time to look beyond the “fairy tale”? Should the King be held accountable for “secret” accounts? Should South Africa consider a bailout package? How should the growing HIV/AIDS crisis be handled with a growing national deficit? What are the similarities between what the Swazis are facing and what Americans are facing with the debt ceiling standoff?