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A tiny, mountainous, beautiful kingdom

5 May 2008

Paile Chabane, MRG’s International Human Rights Officer for Africa, revisits the 43rd session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Swaziland.

Once again my work has flung me back to the Southern region of Africa that is home… in Swaziland this time, where the 43rd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights is being hosted. In fact, the tiny, beautiful, mountainous kingdom of Swaziland is a twin to my own country… the tiny, beautiful, mountainous kingdom of Lesotho, although if the truth were told the two countries are different in so many ways.

In fact quite possibly the similarities end at the three adjectives I have referred to above: tiny, mountainous, kingdom. I often have to make the distinction between this kingdom and my own – Swazi culture is known for its colourful, controversial stories (such as the king and his many wives – our king has just the one!). And indeed the political and governance systems of the two states are very different. Returning to the subject of the monarchy – in Swaziland the king is the head of state as well as the government, while the king of Lesotho is a constitutional ceremonial monarch.

From a very young age I have visited Swaziland, mainly for family visits, since we have relatives here. But on this trip my presence here feels different… I have to figure things out on my own (and with the nine other colleagues and partners with whom I was attending the session as part of the MRG African Commission project). I have to interact with the place and the people beyond the orchestrated family occasions context. The funny thing is that it really feels like I am here for the very first time. In spite of the long intertwined history of the two countries (which together with Botswana have commonly come to be known in the region as Boleswa – Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland), I have never really been able to wrap my mind around Swaziland. Every time I would think of Swaziland images of lots of trees, rain and dense mist at night would come to mind. Well, the trees are still here since Swaziland once had the biggest man made forest, but fortunately the rain and mist seem to have disappeared.

Anyway, here I am and it’s important to not lose sight of the reasons why I’m here this time. The first good news is that the hotel is quite nice… something which we have learned to not take for granted after a not so pleasant experience at the last session which still lingers fresh on one’s mind months later! Tomorrow there will be a side event which will try to advance the discussions from the seminar we had in March in Pretoria on minorities and minority rights in Africa (see previous blogs The show must go on and My work is done…). In particular, we will discuss a minorities’ forum in Africa, which was one of the recommendations of the seminar. We hope to launch the forum at the November session of the African Commission.

MRG has supported five project partners who were at the seminar to attend this session in order to undertake further lobbying, so in total we have a formidable team of 10 ready to take on the Commission.

Being the last one to arrive in Swaziland the first thing I need to do is find my partners… there seems to be no sign of them… how hard can it be to find at least one of the other 9 members of the group? Then I learn… they have gone to a barbecue…

This article reflects the sole opinion of its author and does not engage MRG’s responsibility.