There are hundreds of monarchies in Africa, however, there are only three independent monarchies in the whole of Africa. I was lucky to visit all three this year, i.e., Lesotho, Morocco and Swaziland. Lesotho and Morocco are constitutional monarchies and Swaziland is an absolute monarchy. Within an absolute monarchy, the king or queen rules with absolute power (also called undemocratic monarchy) whereas in a constitutional monarchy (also known as liberal monarchy), the head of state is elected and the king or queen has limited power since they rule along with a governing body.
The Kingdom of Lesotho (a constitutional monarchy) is a small landlocked country entirely surrounded by South Africa. It is known as the ‘Kingdom in the skies’, the whole country being over 1,000 metres in altitude. Nearly 40% of the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day “. Just like Swaziland, the aids epidemic is disastrous and 26% of the population is infected. Life expectancy at birth is 50 years. In comparison to the neighboring kingdom Swaziland, things are quite different in Lesotho. The King Letsie the 3rd is popular and refrains from politics even when the his people ask him to intervene. In comparison to Swaziland, the British educated roman catholic has only one wife and not a large fry such as the Swazi neighbor. We entered the country by the Sani Pass. The Sani Pass is the mother of all South African mountain passes, the most iconic gravel pass. Situated between KZN and Lesotho the pass was built circa 1950 and remains a challenging drive in 4×4 vehicles with all the drama, scenery, and treacherous conditions expected of a pass with a summit altitude of 2876 m”. .

Travel experiences Lesotho.
Africa and snow are not commonly found in the same sentence. So when we heard that the Sani Pass was open although it had snowed recently, we were very eager to go up. The drive up was spectacular along snow-dusted mountaintops and we did not encounter any problems. Arriving at the Swazi customs on top was another experience as it felt like arriving in medieval times. No strict boundaries are set and nice Rasta-haired men in a small golf-plated house gave you permission to enter the country after paying and filling in forms. Entering Lesotho, the kingdom in the sky, left us speechless. We rode over wind-blown hills, and into sheltered valleys carpeted with snow. Basotho people and their cattle were walking along the tar road, holding patterned blankets for protection from the cold. The road between Sani and Afriski and beyond has always been really bad. The trip used to take hours but took now just a few hours. We left Drakensbergen in the morning and still were on time to get an afternoon skiing in. We passed Letseng Diamond mine and crested the mountain over Tlaeeeng Pass. At 3255 meters above sea level it is one of the highest passes in Africa. The drive was absolutely beautiful. Afriski is situated in a natural bowl, cabins clustered on the hill above the ski slopes. It looks stereotypical, replete with winter cabins and frozen lakes. We decided to go for a ski afternoon, and we rented our outdated equipment from the local people in a funny ski shop. We satiated our lust for skiing after a few tracks; it was quite tiring with equipment that did not fit at all. We left exhausted but grinning after experiencing an après ski and ski show. Then we headed further along the A1 to New Oxbow lodge for the night. The next day, we moved back to South Africa through some of Africa’s most spectacular landscapes. Lesotho is still mainly a rural society and is not attracting many tourists. The country has spectacular sights and a very interesting culture – where can you experience that ponies are the most common form of public transport. Unfortunately, we did not had enough time to wander around to experience the local life.

The kingdom of Morocco, a country in the Maghreb region of North Africa, is just 13 km from the coast of Spain. Of the 3 independent kingdoms in Africa, Morocco has the best health statistics according to the World Health Organization. Life expectancy at birth is 71 years, the same as the world’s average. Stroke is leading cause of death, while HIV/AIDS are the leading causes of death in the other two kingdoms (in Morocco 0,1%). The so-called “cool” king Mohammed VI is the wealthiest monarch in Africa (2 billion dollar). Now he is 16 years on the throne and he has survived the Arab spring. The king had started reforming in early 2000 and therefore the king was successful in avoiding the commotion that the other countries in the region faced. Another explanation is that no king from any other country in the region has fallen from his throne during the Arab spring. It is believed that Arab monarchs are more legitimate than presidents because the monarch is a direct offspring from the prophet Mohammed. Most people, especially in rural areas belief that they are emotionally connected to the king. The king got a lot of credits for his reforms (one of his highlights was giving more rights to women) from the western world but on the other hand United Nations has reported higher incidence of torture.

Travel experiences Marrakech & Atlas.
Earlier this year I have travelled to Marrakech and the Atlas. In the red city we stayed in a riad (Palais Khum) which is a traditional Moroccan house built around a courtyard. For a few days we were sitting in cafés just to view the Moroccan live, ate a lot of tajines flavoured with saffron and argan, got lost in the medina, and sweat in the Medina. The famous Jemaa-el-Fnaa carnivalesque square is truly the chaos everyone mentions: every night lots of people are eating, shopping, watching magiicans and listening to music. It is very fascinating to watch. We also visited the Atlas mountains, following the hairpinced Tizi-n-Tichka pass was adventurous. It was a journey across the Atlas Mountains with astounding beautiful countryside views. Though we did not spend much time in the Atlas, we were amazed by the beauty of the Kasbahs. I enjoyed the most strolling around the streets and climbing up to the summit of the Kasbah (Ait Benhaddou). The medieval red-earth village, UNESCO world heritage site brings you back to a century you never have experienced. This place is popular for many films such as the gladiator, babel and star wars.

Significantly smaller than any other African country is Swaziland. It is sandwiched within South Africa and Mozambique. The country is listed among the few nations with an absolute monarchy next to Brunei, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Vatican City, Oman and Qatar. The Swaziland constitution has come under a lot of criticism from Amnesty International for their lack of protection of human rights and the King for living a lavish lifestyle while most of his people live in poverty (63% below poverty line). The life expectancy at birth is only 54 years and the aids epidemic in Swaziland is disastrous (26% among the sexual active population). The annual reed dance ceremony (yearly market for the king to choose his new wife) was reintroduced in 1991 by the former king as a way to conserve virginity of young girls to lower HIV transmission. This august, the king had his annual ceremony where he chose his new wife and publicly tested her virginity. Partaking in this shocking long time tradition also results yearly in lost lives of the girls by car accidents or violence. Only one girl refused to marry him (2013) and is now living in England and is a vocal opponent of the Swazi regime.

Travel experiences Swaziland – Wide Horizons.
Ones you know all these facts, I was quite surprised that this little kingdom offers a refreshing escape from South Africa. A quite liberal and friendly atmosphere is felt as soon you get to the border, far more than in South Africa. We stayed 3 days in Swaziland at the Rosecraft farm in a safari tent (Wide Horizons). Hidden in the majestic Makungutsha mountains you will discover Wide Horizons. In the seventies it was founded by Rose. Rose played a big role in improving wealth of Swazi women. She opened a handweaving centre were nowadays still a lot of women are employed. We visited the weaving centre during our stay and were pleasantly surprised by the fact that women were charging all the batteries of mobile phones of their tribe members. They come up the hill each day with dozens of mobiles in their skirt to help their family and friends to charge. Rose a very charismatic lady had been leading for years the factory and now she is mainly involved in giving visitors from all over the world an unforgettable stay. Waking up in the sheer morning glow, seeing hauntingly beautiful views were precious moments. Swaziland is a dream for hikers and 4×4 adventurists since many of the roads are gravel.