From Swaziland to eSwatini: Will a new name launch government reforms?

On the 50th anniversary celebrations of Swaziland’s independence, King Mswati III announced that henceforth the Country would be addressed as eSwatini, its original name before British colonization. Well known for it’s absolute monarchy system of government, there is speculation as to whether a name change indicates imminent reforms to Swaziland’s economic and political structure.

Bordered by Mozambique and South Africa on all sides, with a nominal GDP of about $3,000 and an estimated population of 1.3 million people, Swaziland is classified as a lower-middle income country. The economy is diverse with agriculture, mining and forestry accounting for 13%, manufacturing 37% and services 50% of total GDP. Despite this, the Country faces development challenges. The World Bank estimates that 63% of the population live below poverty line while 29% live below the extreme poverty line. Inequality is high with a Gini coefficient of 49.5 and a prevalence of HIV/AIDS at 31%, making life-expectancy approximately 49 years.

Vision 2022 and Government Programme of Action (2013-2018)

Vision 2022 was launched in August 1999 and the aim is for Swaziland to be among the top 10% of the medium human development countries in the UN Human Development Index by 2022. Towards this, the government published its Programme of Action for the period between 2013 -2018 and the Swaziland Development Index as a key indicator of progress. The nine main areas of focus are economic prosperity, agricultural growth and environmental sustainability, education, health, service delivery, infrastructure, governance and anti-corruption.

A few of the developments since 1999, includes implementation of a Constitution in 2005, establishment of a western court system in 2006 independent of Crown control, provision of a Bill to ensure 30% of parliament member are women in 2018, recording a government surplus since 2006 with SACU revenues accounting for 60% of total government revenues and reduction of external debt. A vibrant export sector and pegging the Lilangeni to the Rand are some measures that have greatly benefitted the country, on the flip side, the country is heavily reliant on South Africa for its imports and exports.

Expected Reforms

Curbing government expenditure is a major economic concern. Increased spending on wages, transfers and subsidies have failed to incite growth. The wage bill constitutes over 15% of GDP and 55% of total government expenditure, one of the highest amongst African nations. Recent reports allege that the government incurred an expense of at least 3 billion Rand for the Independence Day celebrations, leading to protests and clashes with the police.

Pro-democracy activists have petitioned the government to legalise political parties and allow for democratic governance in the country. Presently, the status of opposition political parties is unclear and they are banned from parliament chambers. Mario Masuku, the leader of the People’s United Democratic Movement has been in and out of prison but never convicted for agitating democracy. The President of the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress, Alvit Dlamini implores the aid of neighbouring countries who operate a democracy.

There is also need for governance and infrastructure development to adapt to the volatile investment climate which threatens Swaziland’s exports. The removal of trade preferences for textiles, accession to similar preferences for East Asian countries and the phasing out of preferential prices for sugar to the EU market, challenges Swaziland to introduce reforms that will ensure a competitive market.

Amnesty International have also called out the Swazi government on human rights violations, claiming many have been forcibly evicted from their homes. AI reminded the Swazi authorities as they celebrated Independence that the government is obligated to respect, protect and fulfil the adequate housing needs of the people. The organisation further stated that King Mswati must usher in a new era that ends forced evictions and guarantees human rights, including housing, for all.

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