Swaziland is located in southern Africa, land-locked between South Africa and Mozambique. It is roughly the size of New Jersey. The nation was granted autonomy by the British in the late 19th century, and independence in 1968. In the 1990s, King Mswati III faced mounting political pressure to permit democratic reforms. Though the country remains a monarchy, a constitution was adopted in 2006 but is still in the process of being ratified and implemented.
Swaziland’s economy is dominated by the manufacturing and service sectors. Less than 10% of GDP comes from agriculture, even as agriculture employs 70% of the labor force. Frequent droughts, low rainfall, and soil erosion make it difficult to rely on crop production and exacerbate hunger and poverty. Economic security is inhibited by the country’s reliance on customs duties and trade with South Africa, which receives over half of Swaziland’s exports and supplies most of its imports. Recent improvements in Swaziland’s economy have bolstered the country’s image in the international economy beyond South Africa, but the country must resolve its constitutional issues in order to be seen as a viable competitor for foreign investment.
A major obstacle to development in Swaziland is lack of access to water and sanitation. According the WHO/UNICEF’s Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) 2015 data, 26% of the general population and 31% of the rural population relies on unimproved water sources to meet their daily needs. Access to sanitation facilities is also a challenge: 22% of the general population, and 26% of the rural population lacks access to an improved sanitation facility or practices open defecation. Lack of access to water and sanitation also impact other areas of development like health, food security and women’s empowerment.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Swaziland has adversely affected both economic and food security. With the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS (26.5%) in the world, and a life expectancy of just 50 years, Swaziland is in the midst of a health crisis. According to the United Nations, the HIV/AIDS epidemic lead to nearly 45% reduction in cultivated land area, including a 54% decrease in maize production. In addition, general workforce productivity has also suffered because of the epidemic; almost one-third of the labor force has been diverted to care-taking.
Despite challenges, Swaziland continues to make progress. With the help of international support, the country has halved the rate of new HIV infections in children since 2001. HIV testing of pregnant women is over 90%, and education about transmission methods has been widely disseminated. Furthermore, of the 43 African countries with ongoing malaria transmission, Swaziland is one of the few that has reduced malaria transmission by at least 75%. Swaziland has also taken an active approach to reducing gender disparity through the introduction of its 2010 National Gender Policy. One indicator of growth in this area is the success of SWEET (Swaziland Women’s Economic Empowerment Trust), an institution focused on providing economic opportunities to women through microfinance. Continued development will hinge on public health, foreign investment, and political stability.