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Last update: 1 July 2022 h. 10:44
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Rights violation exacerbates poverty

Human rights violations and undemocratic practices fuel poverty in a nation, as asserted by political reformers in sub-Saharan Africa s last absolute monarchy.
James Hall

We have studies, and we have on the ground anecdotal evidence that allow us to draw both scientific conclusions and empirical conclusions that are more than mere hunches, sociologist Karen Dlamini said in an interview with IPS.

The annual reports of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) since 1999 have stressed that productive economies that ensure people s survival through jobs, food security and a secure health system are a precondition for stable democratic systems.

Dlamini noted another view that emphasizes that democracy is a prerequisite for wealth creation. The work of political scientist Amartya Sen is pertinent here, said Dlamini of the Indian economist who won the Nobel Prize in his field for establishing a link between poverty eradication and democracy.

The stronger democracy s hold in a country s political system, the swifter poverty diminishes, Sen showed using mathematical models. Sen illustrated his work with the example of his own nation. With its historically high population, India had been prone to famine for years. But since the establishment of democracy, there has not been a single famine in the country.

The reason is that democratically elected governments have to ensure their reelection prospects. If politicians allow their constituents to starve, they will be voted out of office.

In nations where democracy has been subverted by an autocrat, like present-day Zimbabwe, leaders secure power without concern for the survival needs of ordinary people. Critics of the Mugabe regime say government policies have reduced the once-thriving agriculture sector to shambles.

Where the nation once exported to feed the region, today emergency food relief keeps thousands of Zimbabweans alive, and even this lifeline is threatened by a regime that seeks to manipulate food supplies for political ends by threatening to withhold aid from political opponents.

Swaziland is facing its fifth year of declining crop yields, and its third year when hundreds of thousands of people, a high proportion for a country with less than a million people, are absolutely dependant on food assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP), a WFP official said.

Throughout Africa, in all countries at least 10 per cent of children are malnourished, with one exception. That exception is South Africa, which has emerged as a stable democracy since the election of President Nelson Mandela in 1994, and the peaceful transfer of power to his elected successor, Thabo Mbeki, five years later.

Prior to democratization, over 20 per cent of South African children were malnourished. They were mostly black South Africans living under a white minority regime, where majority welfare was ignored.

South Africa s success in combating malnutrition amongst its most vulnerable citizens contrasts with Swaziland s chronic perennial food security crises, the famine that plagues Horn of Africa nations like Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, and deteriorating living standards in Niger, Sudan and Sierra Leone. All those nations have endured governments of despots or warlords.

Half of Africa s people were estimated to be poorer in 2000 than they had been in 1990, according to figures from the UNDP. In Swaziland, those affected by absolute poverty constitute a consistent two-thirds of the population.

We believe bread and butter issues cannot be separated from governance issues, because what goes on in government affects all workers, said Jan Sithole, Secretary General of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions and a member of the Swaziland Democratic Alliance.

The royal government disagrees that a monarchial system cannot help the poor. Palace sources note that King Mswati travels the globe to seek assistance for Swazis. This month he was in Japan as part of a delegation of African leaders seeking Asian business investment for their nations.

But asking for assistance is not enough, counter pro-democracy advocates. We need to be self-sufficient. There is the famous expression you often hear in Africa: Give a person a fish, and he will have a meal. Teach a man how to fish, and he will be fed for life.

A democratic system of government teaches people self-sufficiency, because they are responsible for their leadership. They don t wait for their leaders to help them and provide all the answers. They have to come up with the answers themselves, said educator Phineas Magagula, Secretary General of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers.

Mozambique, to the northeast of Swaziland, has successfully emerged from two decades of civil war into a democratic transformation that has been accompanied by one of the highest rates of economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa. The double-digit rise in the Gross Domestic Product, indicating wealth created by the economy, did start from a low level Mozambique until recently was the poorest nation in the world but a sustained expansion of businesses and investment has raised the standard of living for millions of Mozambicans.

Democracy encourages people to think for themselves and find creative solutions to their problems. In business, this means people find ways to make their efforts more profitable, said Maputo financial consultant Felix Machel.

Job creation, which improves the lives of not only individual workers but their dependants, is one byproduct of business expansion, and is evident in Mozambique s economic recovery, Machel said.

80 per cent of Swazis live as peasant farmers on Swazi Nation Land. Their loyalty to the monarchial system is strongly rooted in Swazi culture. But there is also an element of national pride, which sees the kingdom s status as unique in Africa, and worth preserving because it gives distinction to an otherwise small nation with a limited economy.

People who want democracy are seen as anti-Swazi because they challenge the king. What is needed is a way to preserve the monarchial system, but introduce reforms that bring the benefits of democracy, said Jabulane Simelane, a businessman in the central commercial hub of Manzini.

Such an accommodation of national sensibilities would be consistent with other nations where democracy was introduced through grassroots support, rather than imposed with forced foreign values.

Human rights are non-political. They are absolute. These have to be respected, no matter what political system is followed. Ensure the poor of Africa their human rights, and they will have the tools to work their way out of their poverty, said theologian Dr. Joshua Mzizi of the University of Swaziland.

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