5 – Mswati III (Swaziland 1986 – Present)
Prince Makhosetive was born in 1968 and became King Mswati III of Swaziland on April 25, 1986, when he was just 18 years of age. The bad news for residents of this African nation is that their tyrant still a relatively young man who could terrorize his people for decades to come. Known as the ‘playboy king,’ Mswati III makes Henry VIII look like an amateur with the ladies. At the last count, he had 15 wives and 23 legitimate children. This pales in comparison with his father Sobhuza II who had over 125 wives. While he is a fairly popular monarch, one wonders if that is more to do with fear than any form of genuine respect.
You won’t be surprised to learn that polygamy is legal in Swaziland and in 2017, Mswati III announced his intention to ban divorce in the country. He reportedly said: “In our culture, once you marry, there is no turning back.” His solution is to marry as many women as he likes and since Swaziland is one of the world’s last countries ruled by an absolute monarchy, there is no one to stop the king from engaging in his sordid and perverted desires.
Not all of the king’s wives choose to become his bride. Amnesty International spoke out about the abduction of 18-year old Zena Mahlangu from her school in 2002. While her mother reported the matter to the police, she later realized it was a futile effort as Zena had been chosen as the king’s latest wife. In what became an increasingly strange affair, it turned out that Zena was ineligible to become the king’s wife because she is a twin. However, Mswati III got his way as usual, and Zena formally married him in 2010.
One of the biggest criticisms of Mswati III is his lavish lifestyle. He has spent the equivalent of 61 years’ wages in Swaziland on luxury cars. His annual household budget is $61 million, and Swaziland spends almost double that amount on defense; a bizarre decision since the country has little geopolitical significance. Meanwhile, his nation struggles on as one of the top 10 poorest countries on earth. Over 60% of its population live below the poverty line, 23% are unemployed, and over 25% have HIV/AIDS. Also, GDP growth is negative, and since the king has done nothing to diversify the agricultural industry, the country will continue to suffer.
At the time of writing, Mswati III is still in power, but Philani Ndebele of the Swaziland Democracy Campaign believes it is only a matter of time before there is a revolution in the country. Ndebele points out that “no matter how despotic, brutal and indifferent a regime is, it can be toppled.” Lesotho was once gripped by political chaos but is now a stable constitutional monarchy. One wonders if Swaziland will eventually follow suit?