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By Peter Kenworthy, Africa Contact
“Most people have the Internet on their phones - I think almost everyone in Swaziland is on Facebook.”
Princess Sikhanyiso, the eldest daughter of Swaziland’s absolute monarch, King Mswati III, is speaking about the telecommunications industry in Swaziland at her graduation at Sydney University, where she also told the Australian tabloid, The Daily Telegraph, that she wishes to put her newly attained Master’s Degree in Digital Communication to good use when she returns to Swaziland next week.
She might as well have said “let them eat cake,” though – the infamous remark erroneously attributed to France’s Queen Marie Antoinette when she was supposedly told that her people had no bread during a famine.
Because only a little over 50,000 people in Swaziland have a Facebook account out of a population of 1,3 million, according to Internet World Stats, and 95,000 have an Internet connection. And, more seriously, two thirds of the population survive on less than a dollar a day, many on food aid from the United Nations. They are hardly going to use what little money they have on mobile phones.
Princess Sikhanyiso’s father, King Mswati III, is no less prone to realism. In a speech he held when opening parliament in February, he urged all Swazis to work harder to help save an economy that he and his handpicked government has virtually bankrupted. “This is a time for every Swazi to stand up and be counted amongst those who contributed to the economic revival of our country,” he said at the time.
But before asking his subjects to tighten their belts, he and his family had taken a 23 per cent increase in their budgeted income for 2012. And this from a king who has an estimated personal fortune of over US$200 million, personally controls a trust fund of over US$10 billion, has built a palace for each of his 13 wives and recently treated himself to a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 luxury jet for his birthday.