Protests in EswatiniEswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, is a country in sub-Saharan Africa that has been dealing with protests for weeks. The pro-democracy protests in Eswatini are against the rule of King Mswati III, who has been criticized for his lavish lifestyle.

Poverty in Eswatini

In 2018, Swaziland changed its name to Eswatini. It borders South Africa and Mozambique. According to NPR, the country is Africa’s last absolute monarchy, and political parties are banned there. The ruler of the country is King Mswati III, who has reigned since his coronation in 1986.

King Mswati III has received heavy criticism for living in luxury while nearly two-thirds of Eswatini’s population of 1.2 million live in poverty. This gaping inequality is one of the reasons for the current pro-democracy protests in Eswatini.

Additionally, more than 330,000 people in Eswatini struggle with food insecurity. The country is still reeling from COVID-19 and a 2016 drought that ravaged the country’s food supply. Most of its people face poverty while their king lives in splendor.

Pro-Democracy Protests in Eswatini

Over the past few weeks, protests have broken out in Eswatini. People have rallied in opposition to the monarchy, and specifically the king. They are also expressing displeasure about restrictions on political expression and the poor state of the economy.

The protests have also caused immense damage both to the country and its people. At least 40 people have died, and more than 150 protestors have been taken to hospital with injuries. Additionally, violence and looting have caused a lack of basic necessities for many citizens. Protestors are calling for greater political participation, a limit on the monarchy’s power and a popular election for a Prime Minister instead of an appointment by the king.

Light in the Darkness

However bleak the forecast may seem for the protests in Eswatini, there is a ray of hope. Following the social unrest in Eswatini and South Africa, female religious leaders organized a Day of Prayer for their countries to heal.

The Leadership Conference of Consecrated Life in Southern Africa (LCCLSA) organized an online Day of Prayer. The event encouraged participants to pray for peace, healing and an end to the violence. Some people also shared testimonies of how the violence has affected them and their families, allowing for collective healing.

“Though painful and sad to listen to, the testimonies proved to be inspiring and gave a glimmer of hope in the midst of the hopelessness that people are feeling,” Sr Nkhensani Shibambu, President of LCCLSA, told Vatican News. “Many people were moved and touched by the initiative and felt inspired to begin the rebuilding of the country from the ashes that had surrounded them in the past weeks.”

While protests ravage Eswatini, highlighting the inequity between the lavish lifestyle of King Mswati III and the two-thirds of citizens living in poverty, there is hope in people coming together to pray for healing and a better future for the country.

Laya Neelakandan
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS in EswatiniDue to its investments and reliable infrastructure, Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, is one of the most stable African countries. Similarly, Eswatini runs an internationally recognized, successful educational and training institution known as the BirchCooper Graduate Institute. Despite the ability to provide a high quality of life to citizens, Eswatini has the highest HIV prevalence in the world. However, the country is taking positive steps to combat HIV/AIDS in Eswatini, which one can clearly see in its most recent HIV/AIDS achievements.

The Problem

There are many factors that contribute to high rates of HIV/AIDS in Eswatini, such as multiple sexual partners, low condom usage, sexual violence and commercial sex. Due to these factors, HIV/AIDS has reached a staggering 27% rate among adults. While this rate is already high, women and girls are at an even higher risk of HIV/AIDS in Eswatini due to income inequality.

In Eswatini, social barriers cause many women to engage in transactional sex to earn money. This practice increases the risk of HIV and further fuels the HIV epidemic. In fact, while young women in Gambia, South Africa, the Congo and Gabon are three times more likely to have HIV than young men, young women in Eswatini are five times more likely to have HIV than young men.

5 Facts About HIV/AIDS in Eswatini

  1. Due to how quickly the epidemic is spreading, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death in Eswatini.
  2. Because of the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Eswatini, more than 95% of adults and 84% of children are on antiretroviral treatment.
  3. Due to the impact of drought and other factors, economic growth has stagnated and the poverty rate remains high at almost 60% in 2017. Impoverished countries usually lack adequate resources for an effective HIV/AIDS response.
  4. Gender discrimination is prevalent in Eswatini, with females experiencing significantly more HIV/AIDs stigmatization than males. Women also receive less economic, educational and emotional support.
  5. The high HIV/AIDS rate in Eswatini significantly impacts children as roughly 45,000 children from 0-17 have become orphans due to AIDS-related parent mortality.

Taking Strategic Action

Eswatini has made significant efforts to address the HIV/AIDs epidemic. Eswatini has implemented the National Multisectoral HIV and AIDS Strategic Framework (NSF) 2018-2023 with multiple objectives:

  • Decrease HIV rates among people aged 15-49 by 85%.
  • In the age bracket of 15-24, reduce HIV prevalence by 85%.
  • Decrease “new HIV infections among infants aged 0-1 year to less than 0.05%.”
  • Reduce AIDs-related deaths by half.

Aside from prevention and treatment aspects, the strategy also includes social protection and assistance, covering “orphaned and vulnerable children,” gender-based violence issues and HIV stigma.

The Good News

Eswatini’s efforts to combat its HIV/AIDS epidemic have been extremely successful in helping alleviate its HIV burden. In December 2020, Eswatini became “the first country in Africa to achieve the United Nations HIV targets.”

The 95-95-95 goal directs that, by 2030, 95% of people would be aware of their HIV status, 95% of affected people would be on treatment and 95% of those on treatment would be virally suppressed. In fact, Eswatini reached this goal 10 years before the expected year of 2030. This success is a clear indication that Eswatini has made significant strides in controlling HIV/AIDS.

As the burdens of HIV have damaged the fabric of Eswatini society with serious physical, mental, social and economic implications for its citizens, the country is moving toward a better and brighter future. Eswatini’s success serves as an inspiration for other countries battling the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Calvin Franke
Photo: Flickr