The king of eSwatini, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, on Friday appointed a new prime minister, ignoring calls for democratic reforms as campaigners said at least two people had died in a new crackdown on protests.
In his first public address since violent demonstrations broke out in the kingdom last month, King Mswati III announced that former pension fund boss Cleopas Dlamini would replace Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini, who died in December after contracting Covid-19.
“I have prayed that I have a man that would bring the country to normalcy, restore the country and resuscitate the economy,” Mswati told crowds gathered at the Ludzidzini Royal Palace, around 20 kilometres south of the capital Mbabane.
“The man that I announce to the nation is Cleopas Dlamini,” he said.
The new premier has the same surname as his predecessor, but the name is very common in eSwatini and the pair are not knowingly related.
The announcement was made following deadly demonstrations demanding the right to democratically elect a prime minister among other reforms.
Protesters took to the streets again in the second capital Manzini before the king’s address.
Activists said police opened fire on the crowd, injuring at least two people and arresting 15 others.
“Police have been shooting at crowds since morning, from as early as 7 am,” Lucky Lukhele, spokesman for the pro-democracy Swaziland Solidarity Network, told AFP.
Civil society and opposition groups demonstrated in Manzini and Mbabane late last month, looting shops and ransacking properties, some of which belonged to the king.
At least 27 people died as police clashed with protesters in some of the worst unrest in the country’s history.
Eswatini, a tiny landlocked state in southern Africa, was previously known as Swaziland.
Crowned in 1986 at the age of 18, Mswati III, who has 15 wives and more than 25 children, is criticised for his iron fist and lavish lifestyle in a country where two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line.