Mbabane, Swaziland | 9 July 2014
A lot has been said of late about the relationship between America and Swaziland.
Much ink has been spilled and much hot air blurted – enough hot air for one of those huge hot air balloons.
I can see it just now – this hot air balloon, funded by USAid, painted in the colours of the Swazi flag on one side and the American flag on the other – floating casually over the Lubombo Mountains.
As the balloon drifts from view, I can almost hear the refrain from the August House of Senators and Others.
It seems as if they’re saying something to the effect of: ‘Ah, nevermind, we don’t need that useless American made thing, that imperialist and neo-colonial thing, we’ll buy our own hot air balloon.’
In fact, come to think of it, it would be difficult to hear much from the August House at the moment as they haven’t been seen for a while. Unlike in the other kingdom just down the road, Lesotho, where the prime minister announces when parliament is to be suspended, here, it seems, no announcement is necessary.
I, for one, respect that. Talk is cheap.
Or, perhaps, someone shipped the Honourable Parliamentarians – salaries and cell phone allowances intact – onto the Swazi-American hot air balloon and sent them packing?
You never know. Stranger things have happened.
Either way, that would make for an unforgettable sight: a hot air balloon filled to the brim with a bunch of politicians, powering the balloon with breath alone, drifting from view as the sun sets over the green and rocky mountains.
If there’s a cartoonist out there, please, draw this one.
But this column is not just about Swaziland’s relationship with America. This column – in line with the narcissistic times, in tune with the prevailing era of ‘selfies’ and unbridled self-love – is a more selfish pursuit.
It is about my relationship with America. So, let me indulge you. No, let me indulge me.
It may surprise some to know that I also went through an American hating phase. Looking back, though, I was just following the fashion. It was mid-2006, at the height of George W. Bush’s disastrous war in Iraq.
Many young Australians like myself got caught up in the brouhaha and began voicing negative opinions about America.
Besides the fashion of American hating, though, there were thousands of sound reasons to dislike America.
For one, the US government, with assistance from Allies including my own country, started a war on false grounds and killed countless of innocent people.
The more I grappled with my conscience, however, the more I came to see a more hard-nosed view – a clearer view, as I saw it.
For all of America’s flaws (and there are many) and for all their forays into foreign counties (many based on humanitarian grounds) America, for mine, still holds the best hope for a tolerant and free world.
Call me naïve, if you must. And I know many people in southern Africa, particularly South Africa, would vehemently disagree with me on this.
And I dare say the South Africans would easily capture the moral high ground. America came late to the party in opposing Apartheid.
This stain, rightly so, will take a long time to overcome.
But herein is my point: America, throughout its history, has continually tried to overcome its past errors.
At its best, America has the capacity to re-invent itself.
At its best, America stands for principles that few other countries are willing to stand for.
Yes, there is usually a good dose of self interest involved, too.
But I challenge you to find another country that has progressed humanity, technology and freedom further than America?
And not in spite of their flaws, but because of an honest appraisal of their flaws – and allowing their citizens to set a new course.
In short, if it’s a choice between an American super power or a Chinese super power, give me the former.
Now, if only America could sort out its trillion dollar national debt.