Living in groups requires members to agree on acceptable behaviour and ways of resolving conflicts. Before 10,000 BC, our ancestors' answers to conflicts were grooming, sex and ultimately, find a new area to forage.

The development of agriculture eased the resource constraints of an area and allowed a rethinking of perennial and related questions:

• what behaviours are acceptable to the group? how are these decided? enforced?

• what should the group be responsible for?

• how should resources to do what the group is responsible for be acquired/raised?

• how should these group resources be managed?

The inter-related/ interdependent answers to these questions are grounded in POWER. Perhaps the simple physical power required by agricultural activities. This favoured males. The advantages this gave them grew as the group accumulated objects, implements, access to more favourable lands, to more secure water sources, and so on. From a very broad perspective, human history is his story: the shapers of answers to the questions above were big men: warlords, pharaohs, emperors, sultans, kings, with very few empresses and queens.

These titles indicate gender and also ways that an individual big man found to get along with another big man, how a settled group in one area got along with a settled group in another area. Much of what we find familiar in these relations can be traced to ancient Greece around 1,000 BC which saw, among other things, the emergence of the polis, the fore-runner of universal suffrage. Universal suffrage, and the institutions of government going along with them, emerged only in the last 100 years, and remain fluid. All reflect their long history of resolving conflicts in and between groups.

Getting on in eSwatini

eSwatini’s answers to how we should get along are set out in the Constitution, in Swazi Law and Custom, and in the practices of the parliamentary and traditional structures of administration. All are under-pinned, irrespective of gender, by a big man approach to governance.

To become a big man requires resources. Because of its short history, small size and relatively few natural resources, big men in eSwatini are neither a landed aristocracy, nor successful merchants : bigness comes from influence over/control of resources of the state. Control of Swazi Nation land, interests in enterprises held for the nation, and the power of culture/custom, make the King the biggest man.

The size of others derives from closeness to the King. Influence over/control of resources is mediated primarily through the civil service, beginning with localisation of colonial administrative structures, positions and allowances and extending through adding ministries and setting up parastatals. The influence of senior civil servants, many appointed by the King, is substantial, both in determining the size of the service and the allocation of resources.

How this worked out

 Over the 25 years since 1995, civil service numbers have increased by 2/3rd, three times faster than population: the average real pay of a civil servant increased 5 times. The annual civil service payroll is now over E6bn, with a further E900m paid to the Public Service Pension Fund (PSPF). Perhaps it is sums of this size that allow civil servants to approve spending similar sums on the aptly named vanity projects: Sikhuphe and its associated road works, the ICC and FISH. And explain, in the same week, newspaper headlines of concern over debt levels and Parliamentarians approving a loan of E1.6bn for a new building for themselves?

In a parliamentary democracy, parliament’s role, perhaps through a loyal opposition and/or through its committees, is to hold the government/civil administration to account: at the very least, to ask awkward questions. In our 'monarchical democracy' there is no room for opposition, and questions are awkward only for the big men, established or emerging, about whom they are asked. Year after year, the Auditor-General’s annual reports describe expenditures, made two or three years ago, that did not conform to regulations.

The PAC’s review of the reports focuses on who was responsible i.e. who may have gained? There is no attempt to question the system and procedures that allow the expenditures to be made, again, again and again. Nor is there questioning of the government’s financial accounts: in the past few years Auditor-Generals’ have pointed out substantial faults with these, but overlooked the fact that their reports list borrowings, in March 2019, of E18bn; the accounts show E2.7bn. This implies that E15bn has been spent but not accounted for. Nor the expenditure approved by Parliament.

eSwatini: a perspective

In a recent article on the EU Parliament, The Economist asserted about what the English Parliament did in 1649, trying Charles I and finding him guilty of overthrowing the rights and liberties of the people. The people in whose name Parliament acted were themselves: primarily a landed aristocracy of big men who had established their power, and so place in Parliament, through centuries of war with each other, and with lineages claiming royalty.

Scale, in time, numbers of people and volume of resources, allowed big men controlling substantial resources to emerge and establish themselves and their successors. Simultaneously, and part of this competition, ideas, procedures and practices evolved to answer the questions raised by getting on. At the level of this generalisation, it can be asserted that governance in eSwatini emerged similarly, but in a far shorter time and with a much much smaller scale of resources and people.

This compression of evolution in ways of getting on, the intervention of Protectors leading to the constitution of November 1963, had the effect of concentrating substantial resources in the state/government. Men could only become big by controlling/influencing the allocation of the state’s resources. If this is so, it goes some way to explain the outcomes noted above. And leads to the proposals that follow. eSwatini is small in scale and numbers. Ignoring those favourites of the Scholarship Selection Committee, the rivers and mountains in your inkhundla, logically none of eSwatini’s 1.15m people need be more than 10 km from an inkhundla centre.

The volume of economic activity is much the same as that of the Pick 'n Pay group in South Africa. Pick ’n Pay is managed by a board that sets its overall direction, the board supported by a small team of experienced managers. Service delivery is managed close to the customer: on the shop floor, shop by shop. And delivery is appraised shop by shop: by customers spending or withholding their money. The government’s emphasis on the role of the private sector is based on the testable, supported, view that the private sector manages resources far more productively than the public sector.

That being so, government can be run like a private company: a board to structure what the group thinks it should provide for the group (e.g. health care, education); a small cadre of technocrats to formalise and manage the services to be delivered, with private sector entities doing the customer facing delivery, facing customers with government funds to be spent at e.g. schools. Minus the government funding distributed to individuals, some of this is happening now: there are many private pre-schools and (primary and high) schools, as well as some private medical clinics.

And with first world IT, a medical clinic in each inkhundla centre does not require a doctor in each centre: the pandemic has shown that Zoom consultations are very effective and, to many, preferable to long waits for in-person consultations. In Rwanda, drones deliver medicines from central stores. Management and accounting tools can be remotely supported. Decentralise Churchill’s defence of democracy: it is the worst form of government bar all the others that have been tried is hardly principled: it’s outcomes that count. 

That the outcomes from the various forms of government that eSwatini has tried since 1963 are sub-optimal would be widely agreed: the thesis advanced here is that this is due mainly to a centralisation of powers and resources. If that is correct, the antithesis is de-centralise. It could be argued that by preserving traditional structures, and recently establishing a Ministry of Tinkhundla Administration and Development, there is de-centralisation. A breakdown of the Financial Year 2021 re-current budget appropriation of E356m does not support that argument. E177m, 50%, is appropriated for the Regional Development Fund, funding MPs to be big men in their constituencies; E115m is for salaries for 886 people, of which only 90 are community development officers, perhaps based in tinkhundla centres.

Only E6m is appropriated for direct subvention to centres. Responses to the covid pandemic support the view that this is not an effective use of resources: the Kirsch Foundation funded (and probably arranged) the supply and installation of water tanks in 54 centres: none could produce a list of families needing government assistance. Real decentralisation would allow each inkhundla to decide its group responsibilities and resources to discharge them. 5 – 7 people, elected by preferential (ranked) voting, with provision for recall, would settle responsibilities and their administration, including intra and inter regional co-operation.

Funding would be by direct transfer from the centre, from far more attention to police and correctional services activities at inkhundla levels, rather than in big centres. Some revenue could be raised locally. That all Swazis can claim Swazi Nation Land is a wonderful idea bound to fail: population, even growing slowly, grows faster than land. It is possible for all to benefit. The first step is to recognise that land has to be enclosed if its productivity is to be increased. This can be begun by sectional titling it, with the inkhundla controlling the leasing of each section.

To allow banks to lend against this titled land, establish a Pfandbrief: In 1769 the noble landowners of Silesia were short of cash. On August 29th the king stepped in. Frederick the Great issued an order establishing a Landschaft, or landowners’ co-operative. That allowed the hard-up nobles to issue, in 1770, the first Pfandbrief: a tradable bond, secured on individual properties and the assets of the whole Landschaft. Over time the landowners’ individual liability to bondholders ended. They were liable to their Landschaften, which in turn were liable to investors.

These days 82 German banks issue Pfandbriefe. Recognising that Swazi Nation Land should benefit all Swazis over time, pay half of lease rents to the inkhundla (so it has an incentive to find a tenant) and half to a Peoples Wealth Fund - Many countries have a fund that saves for the nation: most are created to allow the benefits from depletion of a natural resource, frequently oil, to be spread over generations. If the holdings of the biggest, Norway’s, were spread among companies listed on all the stock exchanges in the world, it would hold 1.4% of each.

The American state of Alaska's fund pays each Alaskan adult an annual dividend: in 2019 the dividend was US$1,606. A similar fund for emaSwati could be formed from income from leasing all Swazi Nation Land and other assets now held in trust for the Nation.

NB: sources for statements are available on request