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Key findings
  • Only about one-third (35%) of Emaswati say the country is going in the right direction, a sharp decline from 2018 (52%).
  • Three-fourths (76%) of citizens say the country’s economic condition is “fairly bad” or “very bad,” a dramatic increase compared to three years ago (48%).
  • Only two in 10 citizens (21%) expect the country’s economic condition to improve over the next year.
  • The share of Emaswati who describe their personal living conditions as “fairly good” or “very good” dropped from 46% in 2018 to just 9%.
  • Increasing numbers of citizens report going without enough food (60%), enough clean water (58%), needed medical care (62%), and a cash income (78%) at least once during the year preceding the survey.
  • Fewer than four in 10 citizens approve of the government’s performance on managing the economy (38%), improving living standards of the poor (31%), creating jobs (29%), keeping prices stable (27%), and narrowing gaps between rich and poor (22%). All reflect declines since 2018.
  • However, among citizens who sought public services during the previous year, majorities say they found it easy to get help from public schools (69%), public health facilities (68%), and the police (63%). Still, some citizens report having to pay bribes to obtain public services.

Despite its status as a middle-income country, Eswatini has suffered stagnating economic growth characterized by high unemployment, unequal distribution of wealth, and persistent poverty (World Bank, 2021). The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these challenges as restrictions on business operations and border closures constrained export-oriented industries, weakened demand, and reduced incomes. The African Development Bank Group (2021) projects modest economic growth of 1.4% in 2021.

Recognizing the negative impact of economic contraction on citizens’ livelihoods, the government’s post-COVID-19 recovery plan aims to stimulate economic growth through high-impact projects led by the private sector (Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini, 2020).

The latest Afrobarometer survey in Eswatini suggests that government action is badly needed. After recording significant gains between 2013 and 2018, most economic indicators have taken a nosedive. Large majorities of citizens say the country is headed in the wrong direction and describe both the national economy and their personal living conditions as bad. Increasing numbers are going without basic life necessities, and only two in 10 citizens are optimistic that things will get better during the coming year.

While a majority of Emaswati who accessed key public services last year encountered few difficulties, most say the government is performing poorly on key economic issues.

Sipho Kunene

Sipho Kunene is the co-national investigator for Eswatini