Ruling by Divine Right

Any of us who even faintly remember our high school history classes is familiar with the concept of kings and queens ruling by Divine Right. This is the concept that a ruler is subject only to the demands or rules of God and not to those of his or her subjects. One step beyond this is the concept of a ruler being a god.  Again from high school history, we think of the Egyptian Pharaohs, the Inca Rulers, and some of the Roman Emperors.  In modern times, some consider the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of a god. Although we would need to consider him an impotent god, and besides, he probably considers himself to be the rebirth of a mere spiritual leader.

In Swaziland, King Mswati III is the real deal. An absolute monarch and self-proclaimed god. He certainly lives like one.

The paunchy young king, typically sporting a goatee and

traditional Swazi garb,has made himself one of the richest royals in the world by controlling an estimated 50 percent of the economy. His Swazi kingdom is a tiny, mountainous region between South Africa and Mozambique, but there’s still big business: it’s home to a Coca-Cola concentrate-manufacturing plant(the company’s biggest on the continent),a new iron-ore reprocessing plant, and one of the largest man-made forests in the world.

So he’s a greedy despot. That’s not news. The news is that he expects obedience and worship from Swazis. Every year, the country shuts down for a month to celebrate Incwala.

The annual event is taken very seriously. Shops close, police take off work, and warriors camp outside the king’s palace while he goes into seclusion to perform elaborate rites — eating traditional herbs, dancing — under the supervision of inyangas, or witch doctors. A month later, he emerges from Incwala invincible, cleansed from the past year, and reaffirmed of his divinity. Many Swazis call Incwala “our national prayer month” — the deity being Mswati III.

While Miwati whose net worth is estimated at a mere $100 million, well below Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s $30 billion, he is still included in any list of the world’s richest royals. His godhood perhaps prevents him from appreciating the living standards of his subjects.

For Swazi women ages 30 to 34, the HIV rate is 54 percent, the highest in the world. Life expectancyfell from 61 years in 2000 to 32 years in 2009.

Belief in his own divinity may allow Mswati to disconnect himself from these realities. In April of last year, he stirred anger by demanding cows and presents from his impoverished subjects to accompany government funding for his $652,000 40th birthday party (70 percent of the country lives on less than two dollars a day, and yet the royals are wealthy enough to skew World Bank statistics, making it seem a lot less bad.)In May, he flew to England for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and let one of his 13 wives spend $60,000 at a South African hotel. Such decadence shouldn’t be significant, but it becomes so when such a tiny and ailing populace must shoulder it. Later that month, the International Monetary Fund pulled an advisory team out of the country because it did not have faith in the government’s commitment to rein in spending (not surprising when the government spends 17 percent of its budget on unnecessary security, funds lavish royal birthday parties, and then asks for loans).

This is theocracy taken to an extreme. Rather than accept his godhood, most other world leaders question the state of his mental health. Of course, comparing his power to that of other world religious leaders is just not appropriate, They worship real gods, not false deities as does Mswati.

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