Mswati notes challenges in State of the Kingdom speech

King Mswati III opened parliament on Friday, focusing much of his annual State of the Kingdom speech on the nation's deteriorating economy.

"The challenges of poverty and employment require imaginative responses," said Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.

"Let us dedicate this year to the total eradication of poverty," he told MPs. "Indeed, I'd like to invite the entire Swazi nation to join me in fighting poverty. Together, we will conquer it."

He also called upon local communities to find their own solutions, using traditional structures and grassroots initiatives that would not require government financing.

"This will give substance to our chosen political path," he said, referring to Swaziland's traditional system of governance controlled by the royal family.

Mswati also said the Swazi people's political will was embodied in a new national constitution that makes him and his heirs perpetual rulers of the country, while continuing a ban on political opposition parties.

Acknowledging the impact of AIDS on the country, where 40 percent if the adult population are HIV positive, he remarked: "The health system is under stress due to the effects of HIV/AIDS on medical personnel. Government will do its level best to deal with this situation."

The king proposed a solution to the growing number of AIDS orphans, saying, "I urge all communities to make the care of these orphans a very real responsibility in the months and years ahead."

Concentrating on the economy, the king noted, "While sugar and textiles will continue to be important to our economy, we must continue to diversify into new fields like cotton, herbs, medicines, thermal power and cosmetic oils."

A recent drop in world sugar prices, coupled with a change in European Union purchasing agreements, is threatening to put Swazi producers out of business.

Swaziland's fragile economy also faces a serious challenge now that it has to compete with Asian giants like China for a share of clothing and textile exports to the United States.