Democratization in Swaziland. 'Beheading yet another king whilst the world watches'
Not peer reviewed
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This thesis investigates why Swaziland remained authoritarian state in a context where all its neighbours democratized. The world was overwhelmed by the democratization wave that swept the global south and Africa. Scholars and students of political science, public administration and economics have been trying to understand the democratization period and the reasons behind the advent demise of military regimes and one-party rule. Democracy became a household name across the globe. Western governments championed democracy and good governance in their foreign policies. The World Bank, the IMF and other supranational bodies used democracy and good governance as indicators for governance to access loans.
The extensive study on ‘Democratic experiments in Africa’ by (Bratton and Van de Walle1997) points out that in 1989 there were 29 countries that were under one party rule and 11 ruled by military regimes. But by 1994 not even one party rule remained. Most countries had competitive multiparty elections in the beginning of the 1990’s. In Southern Africa, the armed struggles in Namibia and South Africa and the civil war in Mozambique came to an end in the beginning of the 1990’s and ushered these countries into multiparty democracies. Despite the global democratization euphoria about the democratization in the world some regimes were untouched by the wave. Swaziland is one of those. The Swazi monarchy has been able to sustain its grip on political power without giving any space to political parties. To me as a student it is a puzzle how the regime could maintain its grip onto power and not democratize when all its neighbours did so.
The thesis focuses on the failure of Swaziland to democratize at the peak of the democratization wave and the subsequent years after the wave stabilized. The thesis specifically studies the role of the external actors who are all powerful enough to exert pressure on the regime. The study also outlines the nature of the Swazi regime and gathers a perspective of the internal actors who are lobbying the external actors for support and the kind of support they seek from the external actors. The theoretical framework of the thesis is founded in three theories; historical institutionalism, linkage and leverage theory and international relations theories. The study uses these theories to uncover a deeper understanding of the role of the external actors. Historical institutionalism helps to trace the roots of authoritarianism in Swaziland, which the paper shows has its roots in the advent of colonial rule. The institution of the monarchy transformed itself to cooperate with the colonial government to benefit from the exploitation the general population. A path dependency developed over the decades as the monarchy centralizes power around itself and eliminating any political threats to its rule. The unholy relationship between the monarchy and some external actors was not only political but also economic. This relationship helped transform the monarchy into a conduit for foreign investment in Swaziland. The linkage and leverage theory developed by Levistky and Way (2010) for studying democratization argues that democratization is influenced by the Western external actors who pursue democracy. Their hypothesis is that whereby there are linkages between the external actor and the target regime, the external actor has more leverage and a high chance of democratization. These ties are economic, social, technocratic, inter-governmental, transnational civil society and communication. The study uses the international relations theories; realism and liberalism, to understand the behaviour of the external actors. The establishment of a democratic political dispensation is not only limited to internal actors but the international context matters too (Whitehead 1996). Lastly, the thesis concludes that the transition to democracy in Swaziland could have best been achieved by the cooperation between the internal and external actors pilling pressure on the regime. Democracy cannot be imported from abroad, however the internal actors need solidarity from the external in pursuit of democracy.