Magazine article Foreign Policy

The Last Kings of Africa

Magazine article Foreign Policy

The Last Kings of Africa

Article excerpt

Being king isn't what it used to be. There are fewer than 30 monarchies remaining in the world, and in most of them, the ruler's function is purely ceremonial. But in Africa--even though most countries have ditched official monarchies--hundreds of traditional rulers still hold considerable political power. Here's a look at four of the continent's most notable royals.

MSWATI III

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

King of Swaziland

King Mswati is sub-Saharan Africa's last remaining absolute monarch--there's also a king of nearby Lesotho, but he's just a figurehead--and still appoints all members of his country's cabinet and judiciary despite a "democratic" constitution he signed in 2005. He has been heavily criticized for living in luxury with as many as 14 wives and a fleet of BMWS while nearly two-thirds of his almost 1.4 million people live below the poverty line.

GOODWILL ZWELITHINI KABHEKUZULU

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

King of the Zulu Nation

While he has no formal role under South Africa's post-apartheid constitution, King Goodwill Zwelithini, who has ruled since 1968, is an important figure for South Africa's largest ethnic group--with a population of more than 10 million--and an occasional power broker. In 1994, he helped Nelson Mandela's fragile young government consolidate its control by breaking off the monarchy's ties with Zulu nationalists. This year, the king was publicly criticized by Jacob Zuma, a political ally and South Africa's first Zulu president, for referring to homosexuality as "rotten" during a speech. …

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