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State structure

Eswatini's form of government has the character of an absolute monarchy. The now revised constitution is unclear about the ban on political parties. In addition, the king retains ultimate judicial, executive and legislative power under the new constitution. The King appoints the judges in the country, but also the Judicial Services Commission (which supervises the appointment of judges). He can at any time use his right of veto and dismiss the parliament, a right which he frequently uses. The legal system is based on Roman-Dutch and customary South African law. In many cases the Constitution refers to customary law, which in turn has hardly been codified. The King often interprets customary law in his own way. This leaves many intransparent practices that do not meet the democratic requirements of a modern constitutional state. Eswatini has a parliament (National Assembly) that has almost only advisory powers. The members are appointed in the local communities through a hardly transparent procedure. Officially, they do not represent any constituency. The government is accountable to parliament. In practice, the King (Ngwenyama) and the Queen Mother (Ndlovukazi) have almost absolute power, although they are controlled within the traditional system. How this process works, however, is opaque and unclear. The king is surrounded by various groups of advisors, including members of the royal family, tribal elders, traditional healers and representatives of the army.

In 1978, a traditional electoral system - tinkhundla - was introduced. This system is based on voting for an individual and not a party. The electoral system has three stages: first, the local chiefs nominate a large number of candidates for the National Assembly, followed by a first and second round of elections. In the election round, 55 of the 65 members are elected from these candidates. Ten members are appointed by the King. Of the 30 senators, 20 are appointed by the King and the rest by the Assembly.


In recent years, criticism of the absolute monarchy has increased. This opposition is not so much aimed at abolishing the monarchy, but rather at the role of the royal house, whereby the aim is to create a more democratic state system and to reinstate political parties. In 1996, the Constitutional Review Commission was set up to prepare a new constitution. The Commission completed its work in 2004, but the new constitution (see above) remains the subject of criticism. In December 2005, Molotov cocktails on parliament buildings and MPs' houses caused much political unrest. Fifteen people were arrested but released on bail in March 2006. In the meantime, one person has been sentenced to a light punishment. The current parliament sits until 2008. If it turns out that no political parties will be allowed in the next elections either, more protests and political unrest are to be feared.

Domestic politics in Eswatini is characterised by the struggle between the "traditionalists" and the "modernists". Opposition to the ruling royal family (the "modernists") is defined by two political groups: the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) and the more left-oriented People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO). Although the voices of opposition forces in the country are becoming more vocal, the predominantly rural and traditionally minded Eswatini population does not (yet) seem able and willing to bring about change in Eswatini's political situation in the short term. The Southern African Development Community's (SADC) neighbours have only expressed themselves in very veiled terms, in a negative way, on the lack of democratic development in the country. The EU has entered into a political dialogue and several Member States, including the Netherlands, have regularly expressed their concerns about the political situation in the country. Although there have been positive developments, for example in the restoration of the rule of law and the ratification of a number of UN human rights conventions, the EU is disappointed by the progress made in the field of democracy and good governance. The EU has publicly condemned the violence of late 2005.

Another hot topic and catalyst for unrest, besides corruption practices and excessive spending by the king, is the poor economic situation in the country. As a result of the collapse of the textile industry, lower sugar prices, extreme drought and poor economic policies (see also section 3.6), the number of jobs has halved and over two-thirds of Eswatinians live below the poverty line. The trade union Eswatini Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU), more radical than the Eswatini Federation of Labour (SFL) and the Sive Siyinqaba Sibhale Sinje, acts as an important mobiliser to express discontent.

The current political situation is described in the history section.


Prior to independence in 1968, Eswatini's economy was largely based on agriculture. Since the 1980s, the focus has shifted to agro-industry and agriculture's share of gross national product has declined to just 6.5% (2017). The industrial sector, including the textile industry, now accounts for about 45% of GNP. The service sector accounts for 48.6% of GNP.

Over 60% of the land is under the control of the King under the Eswatini Nation Land (SNL) pact and is distributed and managed by local tribal leaders. According to the principle of common use, it is mainly used for cattle breeding and the cultivation of maize. Nevertheless, the lack of property rights hampers future investments in the land. The remaining 40% of the land is privately owned and is mainly used for commercial cultivation. Sugar, cotton, citrus fruits and pineapple are the main exports. Other products such as asbestos, coal and diamonds are mined to a limited extent and are almost exclusively for export. Tourism is still a limited sector in Eswatini, but offers opportunities for growth. Eswatini is united with Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa in a customs union: the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) which was founded in 1969. Eswatini depends for about 50% on the income obtained through this union.

Eswatini's economic position is weak and has been further undermined in recent years by the crisis in the country's rule of law, weak governance, the collapse of the textile sector and the extreme drought in 2003 and 2004 which hit the agricultural sector hard. The effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic also seem to be increasingly visible, with pressure on health spending and a drop in labour income due to the impact of HIV/AIDS on the labour market. Annual economic growth in 2010-2013 was almost zero and population growth is negative. In 2017, there is an economic growth of 1.7%. Inflation is relatively low at 6.2% in 2017. Monetary policy is mainly determined by developments in this neighbouring country.

The Eswatini government has made economic liberalisation and privatisation a priority of its economic policy, but the policy is mainly reactive and weak governance hinders its implementation. Tackling the AIDS epidemic is also a priority, although this remains largely dependent on (foreign) donors. The lack of good governance may jeopardise this donor support. All in all, the economic downturn has led to a sharp increase in poverty in the country: two thirds of Eswatinians now live below the poverty line and around 30% are unemployed (2017).


Elmar Landeninformatie

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated April 2024
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