Prince Phika, a member of the royal family of Swaziland, was barefoot, holding a pack of cigarettes in one hand, and gently pushing away all the fingers that reached toward the scarlet red feathers in his hair.

At one point, during the reception celebrating Swaziland's nine years of independence, the prince's Washington landlord was begging for a photograph, explaining, "My friends in Mississippi don't believe I have an African in my building." All evening long an ever-changing line of young African woman was tugging at his bare arm, introducing him to other African sisters.

The prince - a short, good-looking 26-year-old, a son of King Sobhuza II, on the throne since 1921, longer than any other monarch in the world - was taking all the attention in stride.

And he had the answer to how his homeland has avoided political controversy and internal strife as its neighbors explode. "The king, my father," said the staedfastly loyal son, now a business undergraduate at American University, "the king is very wise."

Often compared to Switzerland because of its stance of noninterference, the tiny and poor kingdom of Swaziland has carved out a neutral position in the midst of the continent's most explosive governments. On three sides it is landlocked by South Africa, where the white-minority powers hold to an official policy of racial segregation, and on the remaining side by Mozambique, a practitioner of Marxism whose independence was won in a bloody war. Beyond both those borders is Rhodesia, where the struggle to end white-minority rule escalates daily.

Swaziland has economic ties to both South Africa and Mozambique, but is greatly dependent on South Africa for exporting its sugar, timber, pulp and iron ore.Despite this economic dependence, which has given Swaziland a firm rate of growth and a respectable standard of living, it maintains its political independence.

For white South Africans, Swaziland not only provides one stable border, and labor, but an internationally-reputed playland where the laws are more relaxed. Mbabane, the capital, swarms with South Africans, at the gambling casino, and, reportedly, at the soft-porn movie houses. Explaining the alliance, Ambassador Sole smiled, "We don't have any casinos, so that is an attraction. I don't know about the movie houses. I haven't been to Swaziland in some years but their morals are the same standard as ours."

Keeping a watchful eye on the prince was Simon Kunene, the ambassador of Swaziland, who was also barefoot, dressed in an amahiya , a calf-length cotton robe, and wearing ankle bracelets of orange glass beads. In the last decade, criticism by other black countries of Swaziland's relationship with South Africa has decreased, said the ambassador. "We do not receive the criticism one would expect because our dealings are open, but under the table, and our African brothers know our problems," said Kunene.