Sekondi Accra

The abscence of democratic and human rights in Africa's last absolute monarchy could soon become a major issue for King Mswati III. A Global Week of Action for Democracy in September 2010 unnerved the government to the extent that activists were intimidated by police and foreigners summarily deported. The action angered a number of foreign governments and could make them less willing to provide aid essential to the country's deteriorating economy.

Prime Minister Barnibas Dlamini caused international outrage when he said that foreigners who went to Swaziland to support the democracy movement should undergo sipakatane, a from of torture that involves flogging the bare soles of a person's feet with a spiked wooden or metal implement. Amnesty International issued a special appeal to support human-rights defenders, political activists and trade unionists, who it said were at risk of harassment, ill-treatment and arrest as authorities use the Suppression of Terrorism Act to discourage dissent. The United States State Department has reported that the human-rights issues in the country range from extrajudicial killings by security forces to restrictions on freedom of assembly and speech. Politics within the king's palace and within the halls of government are sometimes dramatic. The government was marked by a scandal in mid-June 2010 when King Mswati III fired and incarcerated Justice Minister Ndumiso Mamba after he was caught sleeping with the king's 12th wife, queen Nothando Dube. The proliferation of the aids virus throughout the country is notable.

The economic outlook could become severe in 2011 following a precipitous decline in revenues from the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU). The annual revenue for the 2010-11 dropped from $750 million dollars in the previous year to $250 million. Previously, SACU revenues had accounted for about 70% of government income. The government estimated total revenue in 2009 at $1.1 billion dollars, while expenditures increased to $1.3 billion dollars. In 2010, Finance Minister Majozi Sithole called on all government departments to reduce budgets by 14% but was unable to secure full cooperation. Cuts averaging 8% were eventually agreed, placing a major strain on education and health services because 69% of the population live in poverty and 40% are unemployed.

The government's refusal to reduce public sector salaries or terminate workers resulted in punitive action in August 2010 from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, which refused to support Swaziland's application for a $500 million dollar loan from the African Development Bank. As a result, Minister Sithole will have to locate alternative sources of finance, and he has already warned that non-SACU government revenues were insufficient to cover the government wage bill. At the end of the year (2011), the government stated that it would try to work with the IMF to reduce the deficit from 13% of GDP to 5%.

Subsistence agriculture occupies approximately 70% of the population and the manufacturing sector has diversified since the mid-1980s. Sugar and wood pulp remain important foreign exchange earners. Mining has declined in importance, with only coal mines and stone quarries remaining active. The government has been trying to increase the number and size of small and medium-sized enterprises and to attract foreign direct investment, but with little success. In the World Bank's 2010 Doing Business Report, the Swazi business environment was ranked lowest in the SACU region.

Real GDP increased by only 1.2% in 2009, but the IMF predicts 2% and 2.5% growth in 2010 and 2011. However, much depends on developments in South Africa, from which the country receives more than 90% of its imports and to which it sends 60% of its exports.


Official Data


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The U.S. Embassy in Swaziland is situated in the Central Bank of Swaziland building in the Mbabane city center. The address is American Embassy, 7th floor Central Bank Building, Mahlokohla St., Box 199, Mbabane, Swaziland (tel. 268-404-6441/6445; fax 268-404-1695).
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