Reform is in the air: the coalition for government reform is becoming bigger and bigger, and now business and the church have become members.

Author:Hall, James
Position:Around Africa: Swaziland - Brief Article

The push for government reform in Africa's last country to be ruled by an absolute monarch has always been led by labour unions, human rights groups and banned political parties. But the New Year began with the surprise launch of a new group made up primarily of business and legal organisations.

The Coalition of Concerned Civil Organisations is headed by the Swaziland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Federation of Swaziland Employers, and the Association of Swaziland Business Community, along with the Swaziland Law Society, the Swaziland National Association of Teachers, and religious groups like the Swaziland Council of Churches.

In its first manifesto, the group made it dear that government policies were hurting business interests and negatively impacting on the lives of ordinary Swazis.

"The coalition believes that governance is a collective responsibility of society, and hence civic society has both a right and a moral duty to ensure that the country is assisted to resolve its problems," the group noted.

Specifically, the aligned organisations demanded that the "government immediately recognises the independence of the judiciary, and desist from making threats against judicial officers".

The reference was to Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini's decision to ignore two Court of Appeal rulings that put limits on the 35-year-old King Mswati III's power. Six judges of the appeal court resigned in protest, and debate raged in the local press on whether "the rule of law" existed in the kingdom.

The independence of the judiciary became a cause for the renewed militancy of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions and the Swaziland Federation of Labour, which are founding members of the new civic coalition.

To hammer home the message to the government on a need for political reform, the unions are returning to a strategy of mass action demonstrations, like national workers stay-aways running two days at a time.

Good governance in Swaziland has also become Washington's concern. The US secretary of state, Colin Powell, recently notified the Swazi authorities that the country was on probation in terms of the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA).

Swaziland's growing export sector depends on AGOA...

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