The dire state of the Kingdom of eSwatini’s economy has not slowed down its king’s spending and lavish lifestyle. King Mswati’s latest purchase is a further extravagance imposed on the country’s ailing economy.
Aside from renaming the country on its 50th Independence Day celebrations, the King of eSwatini also saw fit to gift himself a R2,7 billion Airbus A340-300 for his 50th birthday, which coincided with the former. Not only did the plane cost the royal R200 million to buy and an additional R500 million to refurbish but there is also a hangar to keep it in at the newly constructed airport in eastern Swaziland, which cost a whopping R2 billion.
The Airbus, previously the property of China Airlines in Taiwan, was sent to Hamburg, Germany, for all its new fittings and trimmings. With a plane that seats 277 people, the King can be accompanied by all his 15 wives, 23 children, personal chef, bodyguards and aides. The plane has a range of 7 400 nautical miles (13 500km), which reportedly allows it to fly from Swaziland straight to Taiwan or other overseas countries without any stopovers.
The plane the king has been using since 2012, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9, which was a gift to him, will henceforth be used for shorter flights. The government also announced that it may rent it out to charter companies who provide flights to affluent businesspeople.
The economic state of eSwatini vs King Mswati’s personal wealth
Swaziland is a lower middle-income country, but its income distribution is highly skewed, with an estimated 20% of the population controlling 80% of the nation’s wealth. With an estimated 28% unemployment rate and about 63% of the population living below the poverty line, there is a desperate need for the country to increase the number and size of small/medium enterprises and attract foreign direct investment.
The contrast between rich and poor is harsh, yet the lavish spending of the royals continues unrelentingly. In 2012 the king had to plead with South Africa for a financial bailout and in 2013 his country had to withdraw from the African Cup of Nations, citing a lack of money as the major factor. Both of these are examples of the scale of the country’s financial mismanagement.
In 2009, Forbes named King Mswati among the top 15 wealthiest royals in the whole world and, in 2014, one of Africa’s richest kings. In the later article, the publication stated about King Mswati that “his personal net worth is at least US$50 million, based on the annual US$50 million salary that he is paid out of government coffers.”
This amount does not account for the additional financial resources available to him through Tibiyo TakaNgwane, about which the article said, “He also controls Tibiyo TakaNgwane, an investment holding company that owns stakes in sugar refining giants Ubombo Sugar and Royal Swaziland Sugar Corporation (RSSC), dairy company Parmalat Swaziland, spirits manufacturer Swaziland Beverages and hotel chain Swazi Spa Holdings. The company has assets worth over US$140 million, but he holds it in trust for the people of Swaziland.”
When MPs enquired about the obscene amount spent on the king’s latest acquisition, they were informed that the features added and the hangar were all needed to guarantee the safety of the royal family and visiting heads of state.