Pro-democracy protests in the Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), which have been building for more than a month, have reached new heights.
The protests, which escalated on June 28, 2021, took over the streets of the two biggest cities, Manzini and the country’s capital, Mbabane, in a demonstration against the monarchy’s rule over the country. These pro-democracy protests have allegedly been met with police brutality and deadly force from security forces, and according to residents on the ground who were interviewed by Human Rights Watch, some protesters have responded with violence.
While there is no official report of how many people have lost their lives in these demonstrations, according to demonstrators on the ground quoted in South Africa’s The Daily Maverick, 40 people have been killed and an undetermined amount of pro-democracy activists are missing.
Human Rights Watch made a statement in response to reported police violence, calling for authorities to follow the law and not use force against citizens.
“The Eswatini government should ensure that security forces act within the law, and avoid arbitrary use of force,” said Southern African director at Human Rights Watch, Dewa Mavhinga. “They should put in place a range of measures to safeguard citizens against violence and to prosecute all unlawful use of force.”
The protests began as a response to alleged police negligence and lack of accountability following the death of law student, Thabani Nkomonye, who died under mysterious circumstances in May 2021. The family of Nkomonye and the youth of Eswatini believe that the 25-year-old died at the hands of police brutality, meeting an alleged similar fate to many young people in the country.
According to a 2018 report by the International Commission of Jurists, titled Achieving Justice for Gross Human Rights Violations in Swaziland, police brutality and torture are rarely reported to authoroties in the country, despite their continuance. The Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) confirms the underreporting of abuse and torture in the same report.
King Mswati III has yet to respond to the ongoing protests against his leadership, and reports of him fleeing his Kingdom to hide out in neighboring country, South Africa, populated headlines on Monday June 28. Although the government has confirmed that the king did not flee the country, there is no further word on where he is currently located.
As these protests continue and tensions escalate in the small kingdom of 1.3 million people, here are a few things to note about the Kingdom of Eswatini.
More than half of the country lives below the poverty line
King Mswati III, who has led the country for 35 years, has been criticized for leading a lavish lifestyle, despite more than half the country (58.6%) living below the poverty line, and just over 20% of people considered extremely poor.
The 53-year-old king receives a government salary of $50 million and is worth over $100 million, despite his country having a large low-income population.
While the government (mostly appointed by the king) has worked on policies to decrease the levels of poverty in the country, these policies have not benefited the poor, tending to increase development in mostly developed areas and neglecting rural areas, thus increasing the levels of inequality in the Kingdom.
Food Insecurity is Worsening
Over 100,000 people in the kingdom depend on feeding schemes such as the World Food Program, and more than 330,000 people are experiencing acute levels of food insecurity.
The situation is only deteriorating as the country’s food production is still recovering from drought conditions from 2016, and more recently, household incomes have seen a knock from the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eswatini has the highest prevalence of HIV in the world
Although the country has made considerable improvements in treatment uptake and HIV diagnosis, the small kingdom remains the country with the highest HIV prevalence in the world, with 26% of the adult population living with HIV.
Of this 26%, women are the most affected as 35% of the country’s women live with the virus compared to just 19% of men. This could be linked to the high rates of gender-based and sexual violence in Eswatini, as just less than half of the country’s women are predicted to experience some form of gender-based violence (GBV) in their lifetime.
One in three girls experience GBV
According to a report by the International Commission of Jurists and SWAGAA, an estimated 48.2% of women and girls in Eswatini will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. This is based on the current statistic, also calculated in the report, that one in three girls experience GBV in the Kingdom.
The report went on to state that acquiring accurate information on the exact number of cases in the country is difficult due to police statistics being unreliable and violence against women being severely underreported.
More than a third of people do not have access to basic sanitation
The country has been experiencing a water and sanitation crisis that has most recently been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Unicef, just 69% of the country has access to clean water, with only 58% of people having access to basic sanitation. Almost 11% of those still use open defecation services, the majority of which do not have access to hand washing resources.
The country’s rural clinics only recently received access to hot water hand-washing stations in April 2021 as a donation to the country from a private company. This is a luxury that some local residents do not even have in their homes. Before this, 82% of rural clinics in the country went without hot water.
What Action Can Global Citizens Take?
To take immediate action in a call for justice for everyone, everywhere, join us here and tell World Leaders how you would like them to support the most vulnerable populations around the world.
Global Citizens can also keep up to date with the ongoing situation in the Kingdom for further ways to take action.