President Barack Hussein Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House
June 12, 2014
Dear Mr. President:
Re: Appeal for support from the American Government and the great people of the United States of America
1. Mr. President, greetings from jail cell No. Room D4 of His Majesty’s Correctional Institution (Sidvwashini Prison) Mbabane. I do hope that this my letter finds you in great health.
2. Christo Brand, Mandela’s jailor in Robben Island and Pollsmoor Prisons, quotes you when you say: on behalf of our family, we’re deeply humbled to stand where men of much courage faced down injustice and refused to yield. The world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island, who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit.
2.1. These, your words, are quoted by Brand in his book “Doing Life with Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend.” Indeed, Mr. President in your speech on “Remarks of President Barack Obama- As Prepared for Delivery Remembering Nelson Mandela, Johannesburg, South Africa, December 10, 2013 you said:
“Mandela showed us the power of action, of taking risks on behalf of our ideals.” You continued to say that, “Moreover, he accepted the consequences of his actions, knowing that standing up to powerful interests and injustice carries a price.”
2.2. In that speech, Mr. President, you proceeded to challenge us when you state, “But I believe it should also prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our station or circumstance, we must ask: how well have I applied his lessons in my own life. It is a question I ask myself- as a man and as a President.”
3. You are equally an inspiration Mr. President.
3.1. Sitting in this lousy, lonely and uncomfortable jail cell, I have no doubt in my mind that while you rightly counsel us to follow in Madiba’s footsteps, I also look up to you as a great source of inspiration. Your dignity, integrity, courage and moral authority in your own right places you head and shoulders with the likes of Madiba, except you were shaped by different circumstances from his. There can, however, be no question that you are the greatest inspiration of our time.
4. Appeal for continued support from the American government and the American people.
4.1. Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of former President John F. Kennedy, is recorded as having said the following true observations about you, Mr. President:
“Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things.” You are such a leader that calls upon us to rise up to do great things.
4.2. Mr. President since you assumed the high office of President of the United States of America, you have been insistent on cooperating to achieve democracy, good governance, human rights, racial justice, and development in the world. In this connection you have made two great speeches standing on African soil. You spoke about democracy while addressing the Muslim world in Cairo, Egypt, on June 4, 2009, “On a New Beginning.”
4.2.1. There you said: “but I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights.”
4.2.2. We are happy that the American government, under your administration, has noted that these things are not available to the vast majority of the people of Swaziland. They are not available because we are living under a dictatorship of a supreme monarchy that abuses the people’s customary and traditional practices to stay in power. Yet we know that tradition and customary practices should not impede on basic human rights and fundamental freedoms and civil liberties. As far as we in the democratic progressive movement understand, human rights are God-given; they are inalienable, inherent, indivisible and inviolable.
4.2.3. In the Kingdom of Swaziland, we live under an oppressive regime where it is said “rights and freedoms which we accept must not conflict with our traditions as the Swazi nation.” Such a notion is obviously inconsistent with the rule of law, democracy and good governance, Mr. President.
4.3 In your “Remarks by the President to the Ghanaian” Parliament in Accra, you said the following in relation to your support of “strong and sustainable democratic governance:
“But what America will do is increase assistance for responsible individuals and responsible institutions, with a focus on supporting good governance- on parliaments, which check abuses of power and ensure that opposition voices are heard… on the rule of law, which ensures the equal administration of justice; on civic participation, so that young people get involved; and on concrete solutions to corruption like forensic accounting and automating services… strengthening hotlines, protecting whistle-blowers to advance transparency and accountability.”
4.3.1. Mr. President, in the context of Swaziland, dissenting and opposing voices are silenced, harassed and thrown into jail. The system of government is based on one man with all political authority, which is sanctioned by the constitution; this is the supreme law of the land. Section 79 of the 2005 Constitution prohibits the lawful existence and recognition of political parties, which effectively undermines democracy and democratic governance. This management is not only contrary to developments in Africa post-1990, but it is absolutely at variance with international human rights standards and international law.
4.4. President Obama, I believe that it is now generally accepted that no country can be a democracy when political parties are banned, and where basic human rights and fundamental freedoms are unreasonably restricted and contained. Such is the case in Swaziland.
5. An imposed constitution for the people.
5.1. President, let us say that the 2005 Constitution is devoid of democracy and the rule of law because it was imposed on the people. This contention is informed by the laws that it has formulated, crafted, adopted under a political and constitutional environment which was hostile to the people’s meaningful and effective participation in the process of its making. This was the era of the King’s Proclamation of 1973 in terms of which political parties and all forms of free political speech were banned.
5.2. It’s in common cause that no articulation can be legitimate without authorship and ownership. The people of Swaziland were prevented by law from meaningfully engaging with the process that would give birth to the supreme law of the land. This is what the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC), a body hand picked by the king to collect views from the people on the kind of constitution they wanted for themselves; section 4 of the Constitutional Review Commission Decree No. 2 1996 provided that any member of the general public who desires to make a submission to the Commission may do so in person or in writing and may not represent anyone or be represented in any capacity whilst making such a submission to the Commission.
It was for this reason that group submissions were not allowed. A person wishing to make submissions appeared before the Commission in person and by himself and had his submissions recorded with audio and video machines. Special tents were used for this exercise. No members of the general public were allowed to listen to another’s submissions. In a way, it could be said that the collection of the submissions was done “in camera.”
5.3. Two issues arose from this, Mr. President. First, that the people’s organ of power in the form of political parties as well as civil society were not allowed to participate in the process. Second, that the process was not open and transparent; neither was it accountable to the people for whom the constitution would be used. A product of such a process could not have been credible and legitimate. Thus, the governance and human rights problems that existed in the constitution persist today.
6. What is the way forward for our country?
6.1. Mr. President, in line with the progressive democratic forces in Swaziland and the training learnt from the American experience of a Constitutional Convention, which also influenced the liberation movement in South Africa and developments in Africa post-1990, we have deemed it fit to call for a National Convention to deal with Swaziland’s constitutional crisis and governance issues once and for all.
6.2. Mr. President, we do believe that the government of the United States and its people together with its partners around the globe can help put pressure on the King to agree on constitutional talks. We do believe that such strategies as insisting on the African Growth and Opportunity Act without wavering has a great potential to influence the leadership of Swaziland to initiate these talks. We fully understand that there can be no gain without pain; and as Martin Luther King Jr. said many years ago:
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” I understand he said these words in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
6.3. We also trust your Excellency that your good office and government is capable of influencing the countries of the European Union, as well as the United Nations and African Union structures to take a firm stand on Swaziland. Our country exports huge amounts of sugar and beef to the countries of Europe; a threat to such a market will send shivers to the king, forcing him to reconsider his hardline positions.
6.4. What is more, our King is very fond of traveling the world. We reckon it is about time for targeted sanctions against him and a select few members of his inner circle to be considered. Desperate times call for desperate measures, Mr. President.
6.5. One is aware that the South African liberation struggle was not so much successful because of the violent confrontation there as led by Madiba and the ANC’s Umkhonto Wesizwe; rather to a large extent, the Apartheid regime (as well as the liberation movement) was assisted to come to its senses due to economic sanctions. Big companies and banks felt that doing business in an unstable political environment was not viable; and indeed some progressive governments advised companies not to invest in Apartheid South Africa.
6.6. Your Excellency, this is where we are in Swaziland today. I am afraid that if democratic and progressive governments do not take a timely stand against the Swaziland monarchy, then we have the danger of a violent confrontation, due to the intransigence of His Majesty King Mswati III and his courts.
7. Your Excellency, Madiba councils that:
To overthrow oppression one has been sanctioned by humanity and is the highest operation of every free man.
7.1. This oppression in Swaziland must be overthrown. With “hope” as you say, “Yes We Can.”
8. To sign off sir, the great Martin Luther King said: “I am afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?”
9. I thank you in advance, Mr. President for your time and cooperation. Oh, let me not forget to mention that I have in my small office my certificate of the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program proudly signed by President Barack Obama!
10. God bless you, my inspiration.
Yours in the quest for justice, freedom and democracy.
Prisoner 353; 438/2014