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Sunday, January 8, 2012

COUNTRY #198: Swaziland

Yes, this looks like one of those boring postings about a country you never heard of and don't plan to ever visit.  Be entertained.  At least scroll to the very bottom!

Welcome Country #198:


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Autonomy for the Swazis of southern Africa was guaranteed by the British in the late 19th century; independence was granted in 1968. Student and labor unrest during the 1990s pressured King MSWATI III, Africa's last absolute monarch, to grudgingly allow political reform and greater democracy, although he has backslid on these promises in recent years. A constitution came into effect in 2006, but the legal status of political parties remains unclear. The African United Democratic Party tried unsuccessfully to register as an official political party in mid 2006. Talks over the constitution broke down between the government and progressive groups in 2007. Swaziland recently surpassed Botswana as the country with the world's highest known HIV/AIDS prevalence rate.

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You think you have a tough time with your life?  Sometimes you wonder why a country becomes a country.  The British influenced the decision for Swaziland to gain independence in 1968.  More than 80% are Christians.  It is about as large as New Jersey and at one time had the same population as Hawaii.  That 1.4 million number at the top, or 1.1 million to the right?  The population could well be much lower today.  Why?   

Swaziland has the world's highest HIV/AIDS rate, with 26% of adults so infected, where nearly two-thirds of deaths are caused by this ailment.  In 2006, 42% of pregnant women had this disease.  There is a stigma attached to this condition, so only 15% have been tested.  There is a disdain for condoms and polygamy is practiced.  As such, the country, with a life expectancy once in the 60's in the 90's,  has dropped to the lowest in the world, at 32.  The next is Angola at 38.  

In 2001, King Mswati III (left), the absolute Monarch (meaning he is a dictator), banned sexual activity for all girls under 18, then promptly became engaged to a 17 year old girl, and she became his 13th wife (but he paid a cow as punishment--his father, the previous king, had 70 wives, and Mswati is one of 210 children).  He is now up to 14 wives.  In 2005, he ended this policy.   Last year the government began a program of circumcision to further fight the epidemic.

Their government essentially went bankrupt last year, and was helped by South Africa.  Yet, the King has a net worth of around $200 million, and is sole trustee of $10 billion.  To quote from Forbes:

Almost every year, he chooses a new bride from among 20,000 naked bare-breasted virgins.

What a life!

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