A Great Time to be a Diplomat in Swaziland

For those of you who are on Facebook and pay any attention to my FB posts, you might have noticed my attendance at several high-level functions. Wow, I want to tell you, it is GOING  ON in Swaziland right now. The king, King Mswati III is taking over the chairmanship of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). Simultaneously, it is Swaziland’s turn to host the SADC annual meeting. So yes, he is being installed as chair in his home country. Additionally, the SADC meeting is being held around one of the biggest national traditional ceremonies which draws tourists from around the world–the Umhlanga (uhm-CHLAN-ga) Reed Dance. Further, the Swaziland International Trade Fair (SITF) is also taking place this week.

The Reed dance is the annual ceremony in which all of the country’s virgins dance for the Queen mother in traditional virgin attire (bare-breasted) in a show of pride in their womanhood. This is also the ceremony when the King officially chooses another wife(s) if he is inclined. I think he has 13 wives. His father had over one hundred. It was this Monday, August 29th. This event is a SPECTACLE. The King and his men leave the terrace and literally run and jog around the entire field, greeting each group of maidens and perhaps dancing with a few of them. The media runs around behind the King, trying to sense whether or not one particular maiden catches his eye. I wished I had brought my binoculars to catch the King’s dancing and interaction with the dancers up close, but it was highly entertaining.

The girls and young women practice dances for months and weeks ahead, like they are a highly favored team in a national step show–which they kinda are… The colorful costumes, the precision dancing and moves, the singing and chanting, and all of the surrounding fanfare is all breath-taking. Due to my super-strategic Dean of Commerce, I sat on the same row as the Zulu King of South Africa and several ambassadors. We walked into the proceedings with the Ghanaian Ambassador to Swaziland and his wife.

The SADC was founded in 1980 and has met annually for the last 36 years. The member states are Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The group serves to create development opportunities, improve various infrastructure, and leverage resource development in the region. They have made some very positive moves in the advancement of the region as can be witnessed in transportation and trade. The group has some lofty goals. It will be interesting to watch the progression of thought from the regional leadership.

So not only did the normal (huge) number of tourists come to Swaziland to see the virgins dance half naked, but all of the representatives and their staffs and families are also here. I don’t want to glaze over the representatives here from the member states. I think there were at least four or five presidents and several former presidents in the room this morning for the SADC opening ceremony which was strictly by invitation only and I was SUPER pleased to have an invitation (through my very resourceful Dean). I had a very interesting lunch chatting with two very august educators–Swaziland’s Minister of Education and an elected member of parliament.

Further, last week, I attended the public lecture which is one of the advance functions, prior to the start of the annual conference. The lecture was looooong–about two hours and fifteen minutes after the meeting started about an hour late. Anyway, the very interesting lecture was delivered by the former president of Tanzania. The President spoke on his perspective of the history of SADC and the course it should take toward regional integration, forming a trade and customs union, and even transitioning into a common currency.

Again, due to my very strategic dean, I  was seated in a place of honor, just behind the Emakhosikati, the King’s wives. The former president’s wife and my dean were also seated at the table. It was interesting to watch the wives and their reactions to various stimuli during the lecture. There were some baaad handbags at that table…

I also plan to attend SITF, the Trade Fair. They are highlighting science, technology, educational, and manufacturing sectors in the country.  There are also concerts, family fun events like extreme motor sports…seminars on various topics, food,  and entertainment surrounding the Fair which is a full week and ends Monday, September 5th in conjunction with the country’s independence celebration.

Of course, I am currently in bed, scheming about how to use the various connections I’ve made to help complete my Fulbright project… And I think scheming is okay because, I am just here to help.

 

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