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Swaziland, History

King Mswati, reform progress, bicameral parliament, queen regent, king's wives

The earliest known people in what is now Swaziland were the Ndwandwe, who lived in the southeast. In the mid-18th century the Ndwandwe defeated the Ngwane people, who had entered the region from the south. The Ngwane settled in the southwest, and warred periodically with the Ndwandwe. The early 19th century was marked by a prolonged series of local wars, centering around the powerful Zulu to the south. Ngwane leader Sobhuza led his people to higher elevations around 1820 to escape Zulu attacks. In this period the Ngwane became known as the Swazi, and Sobhuza established the Swazi kingdom in what is now central Swaziland.

When European settlers entered the area during the 1880s, the Swazi granted concessions to them that endangered the independence of the territory. An Anglo-Boer convention of 1894 placed Swaziland under the administration of the Union of South Africa (now the Republic of South Africa). Administration passed to the British governor of Transvaal in 1903 and to the British high commissioner for South Africa in 1907. In 1967 Swaziland became internally self-governing. The nation attained full independence on September 6, 1968, with King Sobhuza II as head of state. The king suspended the constitution in 1973 and banned all political activity; under a new constitution, promulgated in 1978, a bicameral parliament was indirectly elected. Following the death of Sobhuza in 1982, a power struggle ensued to determine which of the king's wives would rule as queen regent and which of his many sons would ascend the throne. In 1986 Crown Prince Makhosetive was installed as King Mswati III.

Shortly after assuming the throne Mswati consolidated his power by abolishing the Liqoqo, an advisory body that traditionally gave binding suggestions. During the late 1980s and early 1990s members of organized political parties, which are illegal under the Swaziland constitution, secretly criticized the king and government. Their continued call for more accountability in government led Mswati to open public dialogue on changes to the political process. As a result of this dialogue, a majority of the National Assembly was directly elected for the first time in 1993. In 1994 the king announced that a new constitution would be drafted incorporating the new election process. In 1996, after no progress had been made, the king appointed a constitutional reform commission to hear proposals for a draft constitution. In the following years the king and the commission were criticized by many Swazis for blocking the reform progress. Opposition groups staged a boycott of October 1998 elections to the National Assembly.

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