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A fact file on Swaziland

20 September 2013, 11:51

Mbabane -The tiny mountain kingdom of Swaziland, which votes for a new parliament on Friday, is Africa's last absolute monarchy and one of the poorest nations on the continent.

GEOGRAPHY: Swaziland is a landlocked country in the eastern flank of South Africa, where it also shares a border with Mozambique. It spans 17 363 square kilometres.

POPULATION: 1.23 million inhabitants (2012, World Bank), of whom 78% live in rural areas.

CAPITAL: Mbabane. Manzini is the economic capital.

HISTORY: Swaziland is the third smallest and one of the least populated countries on the African continent. It became independent from colonial rulers Britain in 1968. Five years after independence, Swaziland's ruler king Sobhuza II withdrew the British designed constitution and restored the traditional system of government, in which all effective power remains in the hands of the royals.

Sobhuza's death in 1982 was followed by a power struggle within the royal family. In 1986 his teenage heir, Prince Makhosetive, was installed as King Mswati III.

Mswati has often been criticised for his extravagant lifestyle. He has faced many protests and demands for democratic reforms.

To address the criticism, he appointed a committee to draft a new constitution in 2001. Released in 2003, it fell short of the hoped for democratic reform, as it neglected to recognise opposition political parties and allowed the king to retain absolute governing powers.

In July 2007, tens of thousands of striking civil servants took to the streets to demand a multi-party system.

Unrest has increased since 2011, with labour groups and the Swazi diaspora campaigning for democratic reforms.

LANGUAGE: English (official language) and SiSwati

RELIGION: Christianity (around 80 percent) and animist.

HIV-AIDS FIGURES: From 26 to 40 percent of adults are HIV positive or suffering from Aids. The figures vary according to different sources, but nevertheless the rate remains the highest in the world.

ECONOMY: Nearly 70% of the population live below the poverty line, while 40% are unemployed.

The government faces chronic budget shortfalls.

INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATIONS: Swaziland is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Commonwealth.



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