We are fast approaching a one year anniversary since the world witnessed the citizens of eSwatini rise against the system in a manner never seen before in the country. As a people, we are nowhere near healing from the frigid military response by King Mswati’s regime against civilians. The international community watched in shock as the state used all available resources to kill, maim, and eliminate citizens calling for reforms in eSwatini. This, of course, was done with impunity. We have not seen any member of the regime being held accountable for the atrocities. However, we live with the consequences of those atrocities every day. It was a very sad time in our history when the country was engulfed by violence against citizens, but all hope was lost when Swazis realized that no one was coming to help us. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) made a lot of noise about intervening and resolving the security situation in eSwatini, and yet many ordinary Swazis felt that SADC delegates came to eSwatini to add insult to injury in so far as the citizens of this country are concerned. If SADC is really a regional body charged with the duty to resolve issues that affect regional stability, what is preventing this from happening?

There are a number of deficiencies with the SADC security setup. The first of which pertains to South Africa being the de facto leader of the SADC bloc. South Africa is, by any measure, very weak on security. There is no denying that it is a strong country economically, and there are many wonderful things about that country – but the security issue remains a dismal failure. The world will recall that when SADC failed in Mozambique, there were tensions between South Africa and Rwanda because the latter quickly intervened to resolve major security threats and restore stability in the region.

Rwanda, of course, is not a SADC Member State but because Kigali is very strong on security, they did not shy away from the Mozambique issue. South Africa was left seething of course, but there is not much that it could do besides registering its discontent with Rwanda’s military intervention.

When SADC failed in Mozambique, the Rwandan military had to intervene. 

The second issue with SADC intervening is the matter of state sovereignty vis-à-vis the status of SADC. On the one hand, eSwatini is a sovereign member of the international community and her affairs can be deemed “internal” by none other than the head of state. The paradox in this is that the very person for whom dissatisfaction is expressed by the nation is the one whose voice matters. On the eSwatini issue, it is King Mswati’s voice that has greater weight than all the evidence that he is no longer wanted by the vast majority of the citizens of the country. This was evident when the SADC delegation visited the country in the aftermath of the uprisings. It was as if their main concern was to not offend the King – and indeed they made sure not to do so. Even the report that came out of the process was handed over to the King for “consideration”, and therein lies the flaw. On the other hand of this issue is the status of SADC in international law and diplomatic relations. While SADC is a cluster of states, it is not in and of itself a super-state. This should not be a handicap for a regional bloc, but in the case of SADC it is because over time the leaders of Member States have reduced it to nothing more than a cartel of weak states led by an economically powerful state. Therefore, there is pretty much nothing that the regional bloc can do to remedy the situation in eSwatini – not even if it is in South Africa’s interest to do so. This particular bloc has a culture of deference and impunity, which it unashamedly displays in the face of serious security matters. This was particularly clear as regards the questions on Angola, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, and Mozambique.

The third issue is the precedent that SADC itself has set as regards accountability. It is something of an open secret that the SADC Tribunal was disbanded primarily by Zimbabwe when it held the leaders of that country accountable. This significant move was a clear indication that SADC cannot separate itself from its Member States such that the decision of one is in effect the decision of all. With the eSwatini situation, the King understands the ultimate point which lies beyond all debates, namely that SADC cannot impose any sort of measure to hold him accountable for the killings that occurred under his rule, or the deliberate refusal to move the country to legitimate discourse regarding democratic reforms and the future of eSwatini. Having suspended and eventually disbanded the SADC Tribunal, the citizen of eSwatini have no platform to hold the King Mswati’s regime accountable.

These cracks in the SADC system and framework have of course had serious consequences. The frustrations of the people have occasioned the brewing of a civil war in eSwatini. The country is no longer secure, peaceful, or quiet. There are reports of politically charged violence every week. It is clear as day that the country is barely under the governance of the regime. There is, of course, the delusion that the situation will revert back to pre-uprising, and this seems to be the belief at the SADC level as well in that the end goal seems to be to bring the situation back to “normal”. What the regime (and SADC) fails to understand is that even at that time there was already discontent stemming from the monarchy’s obscene lifestyle in the face of serious social and economic issues in the country. So, while it is true that there are inherent issues with the SADC security framework, and that the citizens of eSwatini are not likely to see any form of accountability or meaningful pressure by SADC on the King – the country will never be the same again.

It is for the citizens of eSwatini to orient their minds towards resolving the impasse without external assistance.

*Sanele has a PhD in International Relations. He writes in his personal capacity as part of The Bridge’s effort to educate and inform the international dimension of the political upheavals in eSwatini.