Eswatini, 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 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 experience 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, health care, 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: Wikimedia Commons