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Fighting poverty in EswatiniEswatini, formerly Swaziland, is a landlocked African country positioned between South Africa and Mozambique. As of 2017, it was estimated that almost 60% of Eswatini’s estimated 1.2 million residents lived below the poverty line. Eswatini depends heavily on the economy of South Africa. It derives the bulk of both its imports and exports from this neighboring, middle-income country. Though the lilangeni, Eswatini’s currency, is considered on par with the South African rand, Eswatini’s economic dependency on the South African economy places it in a weaker trade position. Unemployment, heavy dependence on agriculture despite unpredictable weather, HIV/AIDS and high rates of inequality contribute to Eswatini’s struggle to develop economic independence. An increased focus on fighting poverty in Eswatini is imperative.

Eswatini’s Wealth Gap Problem

Efforts to develop Eswatini’s economy have resulted in a widening gap between the wealthy and the poor; as the portion of wealthy people in Eswatini increases, there is a subsequent increase in the poor population. Moreover, policies for economic development often bypass the poor, contributing to worsening inequality. The policies tend to increase business in urban areas, which does not help much in fighting poverty in Eswatini because far more people in rural areas suffer from poverty than their urban counterparts.

The economic insecurity of impoverished people in Eswatini is in large part due to unpredictable weather patterns as the rural economy is highly reliant on agricultural yield. Additionally, a system of land allocation which provides each man with a small plot of land, through a practice called khonta, can contribute to land degradation. Though khonta seems beneficial, often the land becomes overworked and rendered useless in farmers’ desperation to make ends meet. Also, owning a plot of land might discourage farmers from journeying into cities to seek education or other ventures.

A Consequence of Eswatini’s Colonization

Eswatini’s history as a colonized country contributes to its present-day living conditions. The colonization of Eswatini by the British in the 1930s resulted in a disparity between the colonizers and the colonized. The colonizers perceived those who assimilated as modern and enterprising. Therefore, those people tended to flock to cities. The rest, the colonizers considered backward and remained in neglected rural areas. Therefore, the post-colonial line of thought was that the solution to fighting poverty in Eswatini was to develop or modernize the lives of those living in rural areas.

Fighting Poverty with Education

However, Ackson M. Kanduza, a modern scholar, has argued for more holistic approaches to fighting poverty in Eswatini. In his opinion, Eswatini should focus on enriching the lives of children under 15, who make up just under 50% of the Sub-African population.

Children are one of the groups most vulnerable to disease and are frequently subjected to child labor. Kanduza advocates for enriching children’s education, skills and quality of life, which could decrease poverty because children are points of integration in society. The statistics support this theory. In illiterate households, the poverty rate was 71%, whereas that rate dropped to 30% in houses with primary school education.

Fighting poverty in Eswatini will require the reallocation of resources to close the gap between the wealthy and the poor. This means increasing access to education, healthcare, clean drinking water and job prospects for people living in rural areas. It will also involve integration between cities and the surrounding rural areas. One method that could help is direct investment from foreign aid so that Eswatini can develop the strength of its own economy. Finally, focusing on enriching the lives of the Eswatini youth through education could provide new opportunities for generations to come.

Elise Ghitman
Photo: Wikimedi

HIV in Eswatini
Swaziland or Eswatini, as it was officially renamed in 2018 by King Mswati III, is a tiny landlocked country in Southern Africa. It has the highest prevalence of HIV in the world, with the disease infecting about 31% of its sexually-active population. In 2018, HIV infected about 8,000 new adults and caused approximately 3,000 new fatalities. However, recent data suggests that the country has found ways to slash the new rate of infections by almost 45%. Here are eight facts about the fight against HIV in Eswatini.

8 Facts About Eswatini’s Fight Against HIV

  1. Mode of transmission: Heterosexual sex is the primary way HIV is transmitted, with about 94% of all new cases coming from it. The disease affects sex workers, adolescent girls and young men and women significantly more than other demographics.
  2. Poverty and education: Almost 59% of people in Eswatini live below the poverty line. Some regions have still not been able to recover from the regional droughts of 2015 and 2016. Due to poor economic conditions, young girls are often unable to continue their education. As a result, they are less empowered to negotiate for safer sex and sometimes also have to resort to prostitution. Rampant poverty also means that many suffering from the disease cannot afford proper healthcare.
  3. Most affected age group: Adults between the ages of 15 and 49 are most affected by HIV. Over the long term, this has induced major cultural changes surrounding death and illness. It has also led to an expansion of services such as life insurance and mortuary.
  4. Impact on women: HIV has affected women disproportionately. 35.1% of women in Eswatini are living with HIV, compared to 19.3% of men. This stems from widespread gender inequality in the country. Gender-based violence and men indulging in more than one partnership at the same time increase the risk of women contracting HIV. King Mswati withheld royal assent on The 2015 Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill, which could offer more protection to women. The bill finally passed in 2018, however. This is an essential first step for improving gender equality in Eswatini.
  5. Condition of children: About 11,000 children (0-14 years) were living with HIV in Eswatini as of 2018. Only 76% of these children were on ARV treatment. Approximately 45,000 children have also been orphaned due to AIDS-related illnesses. Fortunately, the number of new infections and AIDS-related deaths have reduced to fewer than 1,000 each year.
  6. Increase in circumcision: The proportion of men opting to be circumcised increased significantly in recent years. Circumcision is a scientifically-proven way of reducing the transmission of the virus. The rate of male circumcision in the productive age group (15-49 years) more than doubled from 7% in 2007 to 19% in 2010.
  7. The 90-90-90 model: UNAIDS has developed the 90–90–90 testing and treatment targets to help Eswatini and other countries across the world address HIV and AIDS. Local and national efforts are working towards the following three goals by 2020: 90% of people living with HIV will be aware of their HIV-positive status, 90% of those who have been diagnosed with HIV will continuously and consistently receive antiretroviral therapy (ART) and 90% of all people who are receiving ART will have viral suppression. The 90-90-90 model is a world-renowned global benchmark to curb the spread of HIV in geographies with high prevalence.
  8. Availability of condoms: Targeted mass media campaigns promote condom use and sexual health services distribute condoms across the county. These efforts have resulted in about 51 condoms per year per male available in Eswatini. However, in spite of increased availability, condom use has actually declined. This suggests that a change in mentality is more important than increasing the distribution of condoms.

It is clear that Eswatini has made great strides in the fight against HIV in recent years. However, the high HIV prevalence indicates the government needs to address significant problems such as poverty, gender inequality and risky cultural practices, which contribute to a high risk of HIV infection. Moving forward, a greater focus must be placed on combatting HIV in Eswatini.

Akshay Anand
Photo: Flickr