Erykah Badu Draws Criticism From Human Rights Groups After Singing for Swaziland King

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On April 24, Erykah Badu sang for Swaziland's King Mswati III at his birthday party. Now, she's being criticized by human rights groups, Billboard reports.

According to the Human Rights Foundation, journalist Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko are currently in jail after questioning the independence of Swaziland's judicial system in articles published in the country's only independent media outlet, The Nation. Mswati is also polygymous, having just married his 15th wife.

Human Rights Foundation's director of institutional affairs Alex Gladstein said:

"She owes us all an explanation. The king is a kleptocrat who lives in the lap of obscene luxury while most of his countrymen toil in abject poverty for less than $2 a day. Badu's performance for him is a slap in the face of all human rights defenders inside Swaziland and is a mockery of Badu's work inside the U.S."

Jeffrey Smith from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights told The Washington Post that it was "highly unfortunate that someone of Erykah Badu's international stature would use her star power for inherently reprehensible reasons—namely, to provide legitimacy, and, in a sense, endorse a brutal dictator who both manages and directs every facet of Africa's last absolute monarchy."

Badu explained to the Dallas Morning News why she performed for Mswati: she did it as a favor to her friend Jacob "The Jeweler" Arabo, who was throwing the party. Another performer dropped out, so Badu performed, and handed Mswati a gift from Arabo. Badu said she doesn't owe Gladstein or anyone else an explanation:

“I want to address the people, not a group or a government agency,” she says. “The people know I was not endorsing the king or helping to further his political agenda. I have no agenda. I went into a situation not completely knowing the political climate of the kingdom. I can’t be held responsible for the situation in the kingdom because I signed up as an artist, not as a political activist. I don’t belong to anyone or to anything. Anything I do is because I am a human being, and I am for the people.

“Because of my status, it’s a media opportunity for the human rights groups to further their agenda. If I did have a relationship with the king of Swaziland, why wouldn’t they take an opportunity to speak with me to see how I could help solve whatever issues they are having rather than attack me? But they did not. It’s very unfair to say my performance is an endorsement. There is no place on this planet that I would not visit. I will always take an opportunity, if invited, to go to the people wherever they are in whatever condition they are in.

“In the end, I love everyone, and I see freedom ahead for those enslaved and the slave masters. Guess I’m guilty — again.”


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