- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Human rights groups are crying foul after American R&B singer Erykah Badu sang “Happy Birthday” and gave gifts to Africa’s last absolute monarch, King Mswati III of Swaziland.

The 43-year-old Texan attended the king’s 46th birthday party on Thursday, where she sang “Happy Birthday” and dedicated her first song to the “sons of Kings,” The Washington Post reported.

The singer gave Mswati a gift of a $100 note and “a special stone which she said would uplift His Majesty’s spirits when he was feeling down,” the Swazi Observer reported.

Miss Badu has been involved in a number of philanthropic ventures, including Artists for a New South Africa, which works to “advance human rights,” but human rights groups are calling her visit to Swaziland hypocritical.

Jeffrey Smith, an advocacy officer at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, told The 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.”

Journalist Bkheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko are currently imprisoned in Swaziland. They are 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, the Human Rights Foundation reported.

“The authenticity of Badu’s philanthropic efforts is called into question by her celebration of Mswati,” said the foundation’s director of institutional affairs, Alex Gladstein, in a press release. “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.”

“She owes us all an explanation,” Mr. Gladstein said in the statement. “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.”

The United Nations says 63 percent of the kingdom’s population live on less than $1.25 a day, and allegations of torture and other human rights abuses are widespread.

On Monday, Miss Badu tweeted: “I have no political affiliation to anything besides my AFRO. However, I will stand with any group opposing injustice. But not on twitter.”

She then retweeted a comment by a man named Joe Black that read: “[Erykah Baduowes NOBODY an explanation of why she performed in Swaziland. She’s a professional artist, not some phony rights defender.”

On Tuesday, Miss Badu tweeted that she was not paid for the Swaziland event.