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Africa Files: Swaziland

Monday, June 05, 2017 8:41 PM | Emma Hill

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Quick Facts:

Swaziland is one of the few modern-day nations ruled by an absolute monarchy. The capital is Mbabane.  One of the smallest nations in Africa, it is populated by mostly ethnic Swazis, who speak Swati and English. The average age of their citizens is 21, and a third of their population is under 14. A landlocked country, it’s neighbored by South Africa and Mozambique. Swaziland has a small, fragile economy that is very dependent on South Africa’s economy. 3/4th of the population is employed in subsistence agriculture. While a geographically diverse and beautiful country, Swaziland struggles with health issues. Aids and tuberculosis are major causes of death. 1 in 3 adults have HIV. They have one of the lowest life expectancies in the world, at 50 years. They have a critical shortage of doctors and medical infrastructure. They have a growing tourist industry that focuses on their wildlife parks and cultural events. (1,2,3)

Swaziland Flag. Credit: Wikimedia commons


An absolute monarchy is one where the monarchy controls the majority, if not all, of the government. Unlike a constitutional monarchy, an absolute monarchy’s power is not restricted by laws or other governing bodies. However, while the monarch appoints the prime minister, the senate and several seats in the house, there are elections every five years to determine some of the seats in the house of assembly. A former British colony, Swaziland gained independence in 1968. Popular protests in the 90’s gradually pressured the monarchy to introduce reforms, including a constitution in 2005. An economic crisis in 2011 enabled South Africa to pressure its neighbor to introduce additional political reforms, in return for a sizable loan. (1)

Swazi Students at Motshane Primary School, Mbabane. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/ IPS


Despite their other national challenges, Swaziland has a surprisingly high primary school enrollment rate, and strong gender parity. The enrollment and graduation rates of boys and girls is almost the same. Over 90% of children complete primary education. Education receives significant national focus. In 1976, adult literacy was just 55% and by 2015 it had grown to 87%, averaging 12% growth every year.(4,5,6)

Primary education is not mandatory, but it is supposed to be fully funded by the government, including meals, books, uniforms and all school supplies. (5) During the 2011 economic crisis, primary schools suffered from unreliable funding, especially the funding set aside for orphaned and vulnerable children. (7). Primary school includes seven years of schooling, after which children complete a test to determine their eligibility for additional education. (5,6)

Secondary school is not free, and is intended to be academically rigorous, in the hopes of preparing students for college. 80% of children who complete primary school do not continue their education and work to support their families. There are 3 primary reasons: 50% of Swazis live in poverty and can’t afford further education; despite high rates of primary school completion, Swazi children often test below their grade level; and there are very limited “seats” in secondary school. Of the 20% of students who attend secondary school, only 5% go to college or other higher education. (5,6)

Given the national focus education receives, Swaziland’s education statistics will likely continue to improve.









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