The country of eSwatini, formerly called Swaziland, is ruled by a polygamous king with supreme control over the nation which is struggling with the highest rate of poverty and HIV in the world.
The country is set to have elections this week on Friday. Here is a brief background on the landlocked kingdom found between South Africa and Mozambique:
- King Mswati III was crowned King in 1986 at the tender age of 18, four years after the death of his father, Sobhuza II. He is 50 years old now and has been in power for 32 years adding him to the list of the longest-serving rulers in Africa. He has unrestricted political power over his 1.3 million people and ruling by decree, he is the only absolute monarch on the continent and one of the few remaining in the world. His surprise declaration in April that the kingdom would return to its pre-colonial name, eSwatini, was highly criticised and classified as an example of his authoritarian rule. He has 14 wives and his father is said to have had at least 70. He holds the right to choose a new bride at the annual Reed Dance, when thousands of bare-breasted virgins gather to dance for him.
- After attaining independence from Britain in 1968, Sobhuza II abandoned a British-style system and in 1973 restored a traditional form of government that gives the royal family supreme power. As a result, all political parties were banned and parliamentary elections held every five years were barred. Candidates for the 69-member parliament stand as individuals; the king directly appoints 10, as well as the prime minister, senior cabinet members and the judiciary.
- Approximately 63 percent of Swazis live in poverty and a quarter of children under five show signs of malnutrition, according to UN agencies. About 26 percent of the labour force is unemployed and 77 percent of Swazis rely on subsistence farming, with severe drought leaving many in need of aid. The country has little developed industry, with sugar production being among the most important, and is heavily dependent on South Africa, which provides 85 percent of its imports and receives 60 percent of exports, the World Bank says. Its key textile sector lost thousands of jobs after the United States removed the kingdom from a lucrative trade pact in 2014 due to concerns over workers’ rights. It was admitted back into the African Growth and Opportunity Act in December 2017.
- Around 27 percent of adults aged 15 to 49 were living with HIV last year, according to UN figures, the highest prevalence of the AIDS-causing virus in the world. However the number of new HIV infections has halved since 2010 and AIDS-related deaths are down 28 percent, according to UNAIDS. This is after campaigns to boost access to virus-suppressing drugs and male circumcision. Around 3,500 people died from the disease last year, from a peak of in 7,900 in 2005, while 44,000 children were AIDS orphans.
- The government has almost total control of the media and the only independent newspaper, the Times of Swaziland, is routinely intimidated into retracting articles that are critical of the authorities. Homosexuality is outlawed, miniskirts were banned in 2012 and in 2017 the government ordered that only Christianity could be taught at primary and secondary schools. The Economist Intelligence Unit 2017’s democracy index ranks Swaziland 144 out of 167 countries, placing it firmly in the “authoritarian” category.
“eSwatini is an extremely closed society with a very strong culture of secrecy. “People are used to submitting to the king. The constitution itself says that he has absolute power.”
So far, donor nations have had little success in lobbying for greater freedoms. The European Union, which gave $23 million in aid in 2015, says it is “critical of the democratisation process”.
The Commonwealth sent observer missions for the last three elections, but has not sent a team this week, although the Southern African Development Community bloc and African Union will deploy monitors.
After the 2013 vote, the Commonwealth’s experts reported they “cannot conclude that the entire process was credible. It is difficult to determine the expected outcome of these upcoming elections that come at a time the country has taken up its pre-colonial name.
Article sourced from IOL and News24.