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Key findings
  • More than eight in 10 Emaswati (84%) say the country is going in “the wrong direction,” twice as many as in 2018 (42%).
  • Almost nine in 10 citizens (86%) describe the country’s economic condition as “fairly bad” or “very bad,” an increase of 38 percentage points compared to 2018 (48%).
  • Only one in eight citizens (13%) expect the country’s economic condition to improve over the next year.
  • More than two-thirds (68%) of Emaswati say their living conditions are “fairly bad” or “very bad,” more than double the share in 2018 (31%).
  • Increasing numbers of citizens report going without a cash income (78%), medical care (78%), enough food (66%), and enough clean water (55%) at least once during the year preceding the survey.
  • Public approval ratings have plummeted for the government’s performance on managing the economy (12%), improving living standards of the poor (10%), creating jobs (6%), narrowing gaps between rich and poor (5%), and keeping prices stable (4%).
  • However, among citizens who sought selected public services during the previous year, majorities say they found it easy to get help from public schools (79%), public health facilities (64%), and the police (63%), though significant minorities also say they had to pay bribes to obtain public services.

As Eswatini’s government concludes a five-year term marked by the COVID-19 pandemic  and civil unrest in June 2021 (Amnesty international, 2023), economic warning signs are  flashing red. Gross domestic product growth slowed to an estimated 0.4% in 2022, down from  7.9% in 2021, while unemployment, inequality, and poverty remained stubbornly high,  underpinned by weak job creation in the formal economy (World Bank, 2023). 

With national parliamentary elections (which will usher in the next government) set for 29  September, the latest Afrobarometer survey in Eswatini suggests that the new government  will need to act urgently to improve the quality of life of Emaswati. Most economic indicators  have taken a nosedive since 2018. 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 went without basic life necessities during the previous  year, and few citizens are optimistic that things will get better anytime soon. 

Overwhelming majorities give the government poor marks for its performance on economic  issues. On the bright side, a majority of citizens who accessed key public services last year say  they encountered few difficulties, although a substantial number say they had to pay bribes.

Sipho Kunene

Sipho Kunene is the Technical Consultant at QA.