Swaziland, Africa's last remaining absolute monarchy, will experience accelerated economic decline unless vital reforms are carried out, says a new Chatham House report.

Swaziland has one of the highest public sector wage burdens on the continent, and the government is reliant upon the Southern African Customs Union tariffs and sugar exports for revenue. But the fall in world and regional trade following the global financial crisis in 2008 had a catastrophic effect on Swaziland, plunging the country into a fiscal crisis. Without major reforms, including cutting the wage bill, reforming the land tenure system and reducing the king’s household spending, the report says the country faces further financial and humanitarian crisis.

With elections to parliament due to take place on 20 September, Swaziland: Southern Africa’s Forgotten Crisis calls for renewed international engagement with a country that has been scarred by corruption, poor public spending decisions and the highest HIV prevalence in the world. 31% of the country’s population are HIV positive and life expectancy has fallen to approximately 48 years, whilst 69% now live below the poverty line.

The report argues that reform and progress towards a model of constitutional monarchy is possible in Swaziland. As the EU prepares to upgrade its presence in the country to a full mission in the capital, Mbabane, in September, the report calls on the EU, the US and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to seize the opportunity of the elections to push for reforms in the areas of good governance, the rule of law and human rights.

Chris Vandome, one of the report authors, says: 'Swaziland has failed to recover from its fiscal crisis owing to a political system of duplicitous exclusion. The isolation of the executive and the government’s financial trajectory are unsustainable. Internal reform must be undertaken to avoid further economic decline, which must be supported by regional and international actors.’

Swaziland has a traditional political system, however it is not entirely undemocratic, as is often asserted by campaign groups. SADC election observers must ensure that the parliamentary elections are peaceful and credible, accordance with both domestic law and a regional understanding of democracy. 

Notes to Editors

Read report: Swaziland: Southern Africa’s Forgotten Crisis

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