JOHANNESBURG — Swaziland's King Mswati III is celebrating a birthday this month, and he has ordered up some gifts from the subjects of his impoverished mountain kingdom: cows to be slaughtered for the celebrations.
Mswati, Africa's last absolute monarch and one of the world's richest royals, has demanded that chiefs from Swaziland's Shiselweni region, where his 44th birthday party is to be held, canvas their subjects for cattle, Agence France-Presse reported.
The order comes at a time of continuing economic crisis in the landlocked southern African country, where two-thirds of the 1.4 million population live on less than $1 a day.
While ordinary Swazis are suffering, Mswati, his 13 wives and sprawling family have apparently remained unscathed by the government’s severe budget shortfall.
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Prince Gcokoma, the home affairs minister, said the country's dire financial situation means the government doesn't have enough money in the budget to pay for the event to mark Mswati's April 19 birthday, although it will be contributing about $650,000 from the public coffers.
"Chiefs from the Shiselweni, as hosts, are expected to provide cattle to be slaughtered on the day," Gcokoma told AFP.
Last year, birthday celebrations were canceled because of Swaziland's financial crisis, "a decision that was applauded by many," the Swazi Observer noted.
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In the past year, the king has faced unprecedented protests stoked by the country's fiscal crisis, and a growing number of Swazis are frustrated with living under an absolute monarchy.
Fresh protests by labor unions and university students are planned for the next few weeks.
Forbes magazine has listed Mswati among the world's 15 richest monarchs, with a personal fortune of $200 million.
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