MTN Swaziland: supporting education and…sponsoring elections?
Two stories from the past couple of days paint very different pictures about the intentions of MTN Swaziland. One is of a company dedicated to improving primary education. The other is of a company involving itself in a nation’s controversial politics.
Showing commitment to education, the telecoms operator (and sole mobile provider in Swaziland) has donated three computers plus internet dongle (among health packs) to Emhlangeni Primary School. The annual social responsibility program “21 Days of Y’ello Care” gives back to every nation in which MTN operates. With that in mind, it appears the donation has more to do with international MTN rather than MTN Swaziland. Still, investment in education is sorely needed in Swaziland, and the donation, however small it may be, signals public-private cooperation.
Which leads us to news that MTN is sponsoring voter registration for Swaziland’s upcoming House of Assembly elections.
It is widely speculated that King Mswati III owns a substantial share (10%) in Swazi MTN. Moreover, MTN is the only mobile company operating in the country, giving it that much more clout over prospective voters.
MTN’s support for voter registration appears like a move to empower citizens. And perhaps it is. However, in the past, elections marketed as democratic have not fared as such in Swaziland. This month, pro-democracy groups have been trying to get people to boycott the September 2013 elections. The thought is that again, the result of the elections is already determined; voting is trival.
Critics of the move by MTN Swaziland fear the company is “pleasing the king” and that MTN is shunning subscribers who enjoy democracy. More extremely, the Mass Democratic Movement is calling to boycott MTN, although such a move is near-impossible given the telecoms monopoly it holds in Swaziland. The truth to MTN’s recent moves in Swaziland is sure to come out in the coming months, but any move to drive voter registration seems like a conflict of interest given the lack of a transparent and fully privatized telecommunications sector.