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It's Good to be King! Or is it?

Map of Swaziland
He could just be any other guy, ya know. He's 30 years old, went to school in England, and just happens to be born the son of the King of a small African country and the Queen Mother, one of his father's 80 wives. So, instead of becoming, say, a banker or an auto mechanic, Maswati III became the ruling monarch of Swaziland, the tiny country where Shawn and I have been for the last week. (See the previous update, Traveling in Fairyland)

As he walked up to the stand where the royalty sits, his Highness, King Maswati III, seemed no different from the other men, except that he had three red feathers sticking out from his hair and all eyes were on him. Shawn and I were seated only about twenty feet from him at the Lusango Reed Ceremony at his palace on Saturday, (see Shawn's story, The King and I) and we recognized him from the pictures of him all over the country. His few guards allowed us to get very close to where he sat so we could take his picture - evidence that this is, indeed, a small, peaceful country. He met our eyes and acknowledged our "thank-yous" after the photos. Shawn recommended that I try to go up and meet him, but, hey, what do you say to a king? "Hi! How's life in the royal kraal (household)? Which of your six wives do you like the best? What advice do you have for up-and-coming monarchs who may be reading our website?"

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"King Mbuso"...sounds nice-just don't tell the REAL king!
Four of his six beautiful wives were participating in the reed dance, and Shawn made one of those guy jokes about how nice it would be to have six wives. Mbuso, our Swazi friend who took us to the reed dance at the royal kraal, explained that the King's first wife has to come from the Matsaputo clan. The rest have to be pureblooded Swazis, chosen from different families, often with political motivation. Personally, I wouldn't want to have such restrictions placed on me, as to who I could and couldn't marry, even if I got to have as many spouses as I wanted. "Would you want to be the king?" I asked Mbuso. He smiled shyly and looked down, "It would be nice to be king. Everyone respects the King."

Think about it: knowing your whole life growing up that you will soon be the king! That seems like a lot of pressure for a kid, doesn't it? "Sorry, Tommy, I can't come out to play. I have to study my world history so that I don't repeat the mistakes of the past and plunge my entire beloved country into civil war or economic collapse!" And, anyway, how would you treat a kid in your class who was to be the king? It would be intimidating, I'd imagine, but you sure wouldn't pick on him!

I've been thinking a lot about the concept of a monarchy as a way to rule a country. It does have its pros as well as its cons. The cons seem pretty obvious, especially looking at the insane things that men in power have done in history. The pros are new to me as a person who grew up in the United States of America, where democracy is sacred. So I decided to ask the Swazis, who know about these things.

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Phephile, with her friend Tim, says the King keeps the peace.

First I asked Phephile, an eleven-year-old I met walking home from school with her friend Tim, "What do you think about the King?"

"It is good having a King, because then he rules your country and there is peace and order," she told me, a bit surprised at the question.

At the market, I struck up a conversation with Dudu, a friendly woman selling avocados. I asked her what she thinks about the King and living in a monarchy.

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Dudu is a fan of King Maswati

"Oh, he is a good King," she told me emphatically. "In our country our Kings are born. The people do not just vote and pick some man. He is a King from birth."

Now, don't get me wrong, here. I'm certainly not advocating dictatorships as a good way to rule, but that does make some sense. If I knew from childhood that I was going to be president; I'd spend my life preparing for the vast responsibility I would soon inherit.

"Have you ever met him?" I asked.

"Oh yes!" she replied. "Many times. He talks to everybody in Swaziland. If you have a problem, you can go to the King."

Mbuso told me that one of the reasons that the King’s kraal is so big is that any Swazi in need can go there. They will be given a hut in which to live and work to do in the community.

When the King's father King Sohuza II died, his mother ruled the country as the queen mother until Maswati III reached age 18. At the time, he was the youngest reigning monarch in the world, and even though he had been preparing his entire life, some people questioned whether he was ready.

"I think he is good," the man in front of me in line at the bank replied when I asked him about his King. "But one thing he said when he was being coronated bothered me, and stays with me. He said, 'I don't know what to say, given such a great responsibility at such a young age.' Just because of his birth, he is doing the job of a 70 year old man, and I don't know if he's ready." He moved a little bit closer so that no one else could hear. "But really, I think it is the Queen Mother who rules Swaziland." I thought about that for a moment and it seemed realistic. I mean, he may be King, but his mom is still his mom. And you have to listen to your mom, right?

I hitched a ride with a white man from Swaziland to Sibebe rock, a beautiful sheer rock with fun hiking and climbing. Since his ancestors are British, not Swazi, I wondered how he viewed living in a monarchy.

"It's just like anything else," he shrugged. "He is still a dictator...well, not a dictator but he still nicks (takes) all the money."

I asked Mbuso, "If the king is an absolute ruler, why do you have a parliament?" He explained that the parliament debates laws and then presents them before the king to approve or reject, and if the king wants to make a law; he takes it first to the parliament. "What if the king wants it and the parliament doesn't?" I asked. "Well, the king is the king!" he said with a smile.

Many of the women dancing wore cloth wrapped around their chests that had a big picture of King Maswati III on them. His face also looks out from the walls of every building in the country (including the US embassy)! I do envy him and the respect and prestige he has, but the more I think about it, I don't think I'd want to be king with all the pressure, responsibility, and traditional rules to be followed. Would you want to be king? It's good to be a Worldtrekker!


Kavitha - Bug Off! AIDS in Africa
Kavitha - Misconceptions about AIDS in Zimbabwe
Kevin - 202 Smiles at the End of a School Day
Monica - "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"
Shawn - The King and I
Making A Difference - Paint a Perfect Picture

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