A cable by former US Ambassador to Swaziland Maurice Parker to Washington DC in June 2009 says the United Kingdom in December 2008 blocked an attempt by South Africa’s small neighbour to acquire arms and military equipment worth about US$60 million from British arms dealer, Unionlet.
The cable, released by wikileaks, notes the equipment would have included helicopters, vehicles, weapons and ammunition. Parker’s cable tabulates this as three Bell Model UH-1H helicopters and an unspecified number of FN Herstal 7.6251mm Minimi light machine guns, blank and tracer ammunition, armoured personnel carriers, command-and-control vehicles including one fitted with a 12.7x99mm M2 Browning heavy machine gun and others fitted with the FN Herstal light machine guns, military ambulances, armoured repair and recovery vehicles, weapon sights, military image intensifier equipment, optical target surveillance equipment, 620 Heckler & Koch G36E assault rifles, 240 Heckler & Koch G36K assault rifles, 65 Heckler & Koch G36E rifles, 75 Heckler & Koch UMP 9x19mm submachine guns and 35 Heckler & Koch USP semi-automatic pistols.
Unionlet is co-owned by managing director Mark Ranger and his father. Ranger was previously with the UK Defence Export Services Organisation. Britain’s Guardian newspaper says Unionlet is an approved official dealer for Heckler & Koch. It is a comparatively small arms broker based in west London.
“The British government denied the request over end-use concerns,” Parker says in the cable. “In documents requesting permission to purchase the equipment, Swaziland’s Ministry of Defense stated that the equipment was for use by the Umbutfo Swaziland Defense Force (USDF) on United Nations peacekeeping deployment in Africa. It is unclear whether this was the intended purpose, or whether GKOS was attempting to build up domestic capability to deal with unrest, or was possibly acting as an intermediary for a third party.”
Parker notes the “array of weapons requested would not be needed for the first phases of peacekeeping, although it is possible someone tried to convince the Swazi government they were required.” The cable then speculates Mbabane “may have been attempting to build up domestic capability to deal with unrest, or was possibly acting as an intermediary for a third party such as Zimbabwe or a Middle Eastern country that had cash, diamonds or goods to trade.” It notes some Swazi persnalities and ministers have travelled to Iran, Libya, Kuwait, Dubai and other Arab nations. “We also understand that an Iranian ambassador, resident in either Pretoria or Maputo, recently presented his letters of credence to King Mswati to establish formal diplomatic relations with Swaziland.”
Parker concludes that after the deal was blocked no subsequent purchase requests were made – as far as they could determine. A comment attacked to the cable is that the embassy was disappointed that an undisclosed source “did not disclose anything about this request to Ambassador Parker or DATT Langdorf in one of several very candid and private discussions since this order was placed. If X were coerced into making the order, he might have been embarrassed to discuss it, though from his experience, one would think he would assume we would find out about it and that he might have wanted to do damage control.” It is not clear if the source was John Kunene, Swaziland’s principal defence secretary, who reportedly signed the documentation.
The Guardian newspaper reports Swaziland, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy, has a poor human rights record which was criticised by the US state department in its 2009 report. “Government agents continued to commit or condone serious abuses, and the human rights situation in the country deteriorated. Human rights problems included inability of citizens to change their government; extrajudicial killings by security forces; mob killings; police use of torture, beatings, and excessive force on detainees,” it said. In the months before the attempted arms sale, Swaziland’s government declared the main opposition political party a terrorist organisation, and arrested its leader, Mario Masuku.
The Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies in a study published in 2005 noted the Royal Swaziland Defence Force was established in March 1973 by King Sobhuza II. An Army Code came into effect in October 1977, providing for an armed force with the King as commander-in-chief. The name of the military was also changed to the Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force (USDF). Military assistance came from the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Taiwan, Israel, South Africa and Kenya.
The ISS estimated the USDF as about 3000 strong in 2005, organised as follows:
• The King as commander-in-chief.
• A Defence Council, which is responsible for advising the King on issues of national security and defence. The King appoints members to the Defence Council who are drawn from all walks of life. Among its membership is the USDF commander, who is an ex-officio member.
• A civilian-led Ministry of Defence manned by both civilian and defence force members and leaders. It is the political link between Parliament and the armed forces and is responsible for the daily political-military management of the defence forces.
• Headquarters commanded by a major general, with a brigadier as deputy.
• An Infantry Brigade
• A small air wing
The air wing is believed to operate one IAI 202 Arava (the last of three delivered) light transport, one Cessna 337 Super Skymaster utility, one Piper PA-28140 Cherokee utility and one Canadair BD-700 Global Express VIP transport. Rotary assets are three Eurocopter (formerly Sud Aviation, Aérospatiale) SA-316 Alouette III transferred from the South African Air Force in 2000.
Expenditure on the military in Swaziland from 1973 to the mid-1980s appeared minimal and was funded almost exclusively by the King, the ISS adds. “Available information shows that during the 1990s Swaziland spent an average of 1.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) on military expenditure. For instance, approximately US$23 million (or 1.9% of GDP) was expended during the 1995/96 financial year. There has been a steady increase in expenditure after 1999, averaging US$30 million a year.”