Kingdom of Eswatini: Conflict Insights

The purpose of this report is to provide analysis and recommendations to national, regional and continental decision makers in the implementation of peace and security-related instruments. The Kingdom of Eswatini is a landlocked country in southern Africa that shares borders with South Africa and Mozambique. Despite its classification as a lower-middle income country, two-thirds of the population are poor with an unemployment rate of 40% and over 60% youth unemployment. While Eswatini still has the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the world, there has been a significant decline in new infections. In 2019, Eswatini had achieved the UNAIDS global target of ‘90- 90-90’ by 2020 (90% of people living with HIV know their status, 90% of people who know their HIV-positive status are on treatment and 90% of people on treatment have suppressed viral load). In 1991, King Sobhuza’s successor, King Mswati III, gave into pressure from reformist traditionalists, liberals and the donor community for constitutional reform and, in 2005, a Constitution was adopted that alluded to an era of accountable and transparent government. While the Constitution provides for a Bill of Rights in Section 25 including that “a person has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association”, political parties remain banned and cannot participate in elections. The king remains as the highest authority with the powers to dissolve an elected parliament and veto bills. Until the 2021 protests and some mass action in 1994, 1995 and 2011, protests in Eswatini were generally led by the various trade unions. While these union-led actions were often couched in calls for democratic reform, they were spurred on by issues relating to specific workers’ conditions which became known as the “27 Demands” in 1994 and 1995. The 2021 protests deviated from this usual pattern: these were youth-led, looser and more fragmented in terms of leadership. The unclear circumstances surrounding the death of Thabani Nkomonye in May 2021 stoked the flames of disenfranchised and frustrated unemployed youth. Increasingly, emaSwati realized that the restricted political system compromised the effectiveness of government, civil society organizations and development partners in addressing the country’s socio-economic problems.