Apr. 29, 2014 | Press Releases

Erykah Badu Celebrates with Swazi Dictator as 2014 Oslo Freedom Forum Speaker Suffers in Prison

MBABANE, Swaziland (April 29, 2014)—On Thursday, April 24, American musician Erykah Badu performed in Swaziland at a celebration of that country’s dictator, King Mswati III. Badu sang “Happy Birthday” for Mswati at the Mavuso Centre in Manzini, and later presented him with gifts at Lozitha Royal Palace. A sprawling residence in Mahlanya, the Royal Palace is a 20-minute drive from the Mbabane Police Station, where journalist Bkheki Makhubu is imprisoned, along with Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer scheduled to speak at the 2014 Oslo Freedom Forum.

Erykah Badu Celebrates with Swazi Dictator as 2014 Oslo Freedom Forum Speaker Suffers in Prison
Erykah Badu with Swaziland's King Mswati III

"For an artist who claims in her music and her philanthropy that she believes in the struggle against unjust government policy, Badu's celebration of Mswati is the height of hypocrisy," said HRF International Council member George Ayittey. "Despite a carefully crafted image of American civil rights activism, Badu praises Africa’s last absolute monarch, a strongman who imprisons dissidents like Maseko. Badu joins a rogues gallery of celebrities like Mariah CareyKanye WestJennifer Lopez, and Hilary Swank, who all performed for human rights violators to line their pockets,” Ayittey continued.
Maseko and Makhubu are currently in jail, on trial for contempt of court after calling the independence of Swaziland's judicial system into question in a series of articles in The Nation, the country's only independent media outlet. They were initially arrested on March 17, and face years in prison if convicted. Their trial resumes today in Mbabane, where criticism of King Mswati’s government is forbidden and political parties are banned.

Badu is a supporter of many charities, including Artists for a New South Africa, which works to “advance human rights.” In 2003, she founded her own charity, Beautiful Love Incorporated Non Profit Development, and donates to a range of causes that seek to promote education and positive cultural change. Yesterday, she tweeted that she “will stand with any group opposing injustice” and retweeted a comment that she “owes nobody an explanation of why she performed in Swaziland.”
"She's wrong," said HRF director of institutional affairs Alex Gladstein. "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."
Badu and her management team have not responded to HRF’s requests for a comment about her performance. She was reportedly brought to Mswati's birthday party as a "gift" from controversial American jeweler Jacob Arabo, reportedly a friend of Mswati and Badu. Also known as "Jacob the Jeweler," Arabo served time in a U.S. prison for lying to federal investigators after being accused of conspiring to launder hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal drug profits. According to a Swazi government-owned newspaper, Arabo gave Mswati a custom-made luxury watch as a birthday gift, while Badu gave “a 100 dollar (US) bill and a special stone which she said would uplift His Majesty’s spirits when he was feeling down.”
"The authenticity of Badu's philanthropic efforts is called into question by her celebration of Mswati," said Gladstein. "She claims to want to improve the lives of the disenfranchised and impoverished, but unapologetically does favors for a corrupt tyrant who jails those who challenge his ill-gotten wealth and power. She should be the first in line asking the king to release Makhubu and Maseko."
HRF invited Maseko to share his story at the Oslo Freedom Forum alongside individuals like Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez, former Russian political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and American actor Jeffrey Wright. Maseko is scheduled to speak on May 13 in Norway. 

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. We believe that all human beings are entitled to freedom of self-determination, freedom from tyranny, the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes human rights advocates George Ayittey, Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Garry Kasparov, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.


Human Rights Foundation: Jamie Hancock, jamie@thehrf.org, +
Erykah Badu: @FatBellyBella on Twitter
Management: Deanna Plascencia, deannap@5boroughsent.com, +1.424.666.8620
Agent: Daniel Kim, dan.kim@caa.com, +1.424.288.2000