Currently viewing country profile for Swaziland
The kingdom of Swaziland is one of the world's last remaining absolute monarchies.
Its king rules by decree over his million subjects, most of whom live in the countryside and follow traditional ways of life.
The power of the throne, however, has not gone unchallenged.
King Mswati III, on the throne since 1986, is upholding the tradition of his father, King Sobhuza II, who reigned for almost 61 years and had scores of wives.
King Sobhuza scrapped the constitution in 1973 and banned political parties.
King Mswati has shown no enthusiasm for sharing power, but banned opposition parties and trade unions have been vocal in their demands for greater democracy and limits on the king's power.
With peaceful change in neighbouring South Africa and Mozambique, Swaziland has been described as an island of dictatorship in a sea of democracy. Royalists have argued that democracy creates division, and that a monarch is a strong unifying force.
A long-awaited constitution, signed by the king in 2005 and introduced in 2006, cemented his rule.
Swaziland is virtually homogenous, most of the population being of the same tribe. Economically, it relies on South Africa, which receives almost half of Swazi exports and supplies most of its imports.
Many Swazis live in chronic poverty and food shortages are widespread.
Aids is taking a heavy toll. With an adult HIV prevalence of 26 percent in 2007, Swaziland has the most severe level of infection in the world. The virus has killed many workers and farmers and has created thousands of orphans. Life expectancy has plummeted.
- Full name: The Kingdom of Swaziland
- Population: 1.2 million (UN, 2010)
- Capital: Mbabane
- Area: 17,364 sq km (6,704 sq miles)
- Major languages: Swazi, English (both official)
- Major religions: Christianity, indigenous beliefs
- Life expectancy: 50 years (men), 48 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 Lilangeni = 100 cents
- Main exports: Sugar, wood pulp, minerals
- GNI per capita: US $2,350 (World Bank, 2009)
- Internet domain: .sz
- International dialling code: +268
King: Mswati III
ing Mswati III was crowned in 1986 at the age of 18, succeeding his long-serving father King Sobhuza II, who died at the age of 82.
The king, who is known as Ngweyama - "the lion" - often appears in public in traditional dress and has many wives.
He rules by decree and has been criticised for the heavy-handed treatment of opponents. The king has also been criticised for requesting public money to pay for new palaces, a personal jet and luxury cars. Street protests led him to abandon the aircraft purchase.
State control of the media is strong. The government controls all radio and TV stations with the exception of a Christian radio station.
Freedom of expression in the press is seriously restricted. Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders says the sole private daily is largely given over to "news trivia, entertainment and sports". "Criticising the king is inconceivable," it adds.
- Swazi TV - operated by state-run Swaziland Television Authority
- Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service - state-run, operates The Siswati Channel, The English Channel and The Information Service
- Trans World Radio - US-based evangelistic broadcaster uses transmitters in Swaziland for regional broadcasts
A chronology of key events:
1894 - Britain and the Boer Republic of Transvaal jointly rule Swaziland.
1903 - Swaziland becomes a British protectorate.
1907 - Swaziland becomes a British High Commission territory.
1921 - King Sobhuza II succeeds to the throne.
1962 - The Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) is formed.
1964 - Swaziland's first constitution enters into force.
1964 - King Sobhuza establishes a political party, the Imbokodvo National Movement (INM). It secures all the seats in the new Legislative Council.
1967 - A new constitution comes into effect, providing for the introduction of self-government once independence is gained.
1967 - The Legislative Council is dissolved. Elections to a new bicameral parliament - including a House of Assembly and Senate - take place. The INM gains all 24 elective seats in the lower house. Despite not gaining any seats, the NNLC emerges as the main opposition.
1968 - Swaziland is granted formal independence, within the Commonwealth, and adopts a new constitution. Authority is vested in the new parliament, a proportion of the members are nominated by the monarch.
1972 - Elections to the House of Assembly see the INM retaining 21 seats and the NNLC gaining the remaining three.
1973 - King Sobhuza suspends the constitution and bans political parties.
1977 - The parliamentary system is abolished and replaced by traditional tribal communities.
1978 - The new constitution enshrines electoral representation by 'Tinkhundla'. Under the system candidates are nominated by Tinkhundla's (local councils) and elected by secret ballot. The king retains the power to appoint a proportion of parliamentarians. Parliament's role is advisory.
1978 - Elections are held.
1979 - The new parliament is opened.
1981 - King Sobhuza's diamond jubilee.
King Mswati III crowned
1982 - The body advising on Swazi tradition - the Swaziland National Council - made up of members of the royal family, is renamed the Supreme Council of State (Liqoqo).
1982 - King Sobhuza dies.
1982 - Queen Mother Dzeliwe is authorised to act as Regent until Prince Makhosetive reaches 21.
1983 - Queen Regent Dzeliwe is deposed. Queen Ntombi, Prince Makhosetive's mother, is made regent.
1983 - The People's United Democratic Movement (Pudemo) is formed.
1986 - Prince Makhosetive is crowned - three years early - and assumes the title of King Mswati III.
1986 - King Mswati dissolves the Supreme Council of State (Liqoqo).
1987 - Elections for the electoral college take place, but turnout is low. Many interpret this as a sign of dissatisfaction with the Tinkhundla system.
1988 - A motion calling for a review of the legislative structure is rejected by the prime minister, despite majority support in the senate.
1990 - Pudemo calls for electoral reform.
1991 - King Mswati agrees to review the Tinkhundla system by setting up a commission. Pudemo rejects the commission.
1992 - The king sets up a second commission to review political reforms.
1992 - Pudemo rejects the second commission's proposals. King Mswati dissolves parliament and announces he will govern by decree until the elections.
1993 - Elections are held.
1995 - The Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) organises a general strike.
1996 - Pudemo announces a campaign of civil disobedience, citing the government's failure to respond to demands for a multi-party system and constitutional change. Strike action again takes place.
1996 - King Mswati announces a Constitutional Review Commission to draft proposals for a new constitution.
1997 - Half of the labour force observes a general strike called by the SFTU. The government declares the strike illegal.
1997 September - The king dissolves the National Assembly (the redesignated House of Assembly) to prepare for elections. Elections are held in November.
2001 September - The king forbids men from sleeping with teenage girls for the next five years to help stem the Aids crisis.
2001 April - Constitutional Review Commission recommends King Mswati's powers are extended and that all political parties continue to be banned.
2002 November - King Mswati takes delivery of a $45m jet, despite the country's parliament voting to cancel the order.
2003 October - Parliamentary elections; pro-democracy activist Obed Dlamini wins a seat.
2004 February - Prime minister declares a humanitarian crisis after three years of erratic rainfall.
2004 March - UN Aids envoy says Swaziland has the world's highest rate of HIV infection.
2004 July - King proposes to build new royal residences to house some of his wives.
2005 March - High Court rules that Swaziland's banned political parties are "non-existent" under the law. The parties had been bidding for a say in a draft constitution.
2005 August - King signs a new constitution. The document has been eight years in the making.
2006 March - 16 opposition activists from the banned Pudemo party are freed on bail after being charged in December and January over series of petrol bomb attacks.
The European Union bans more than 90 airlines, including six registered in Swaziland, in a move to boost air safety.
2006 April - South African police fire at protesters trying to blockade a border crossing with Swaziland to demand political reform there.
2007 April - Six members of the opposition are charged with sedition after trying to block borders with South Africa to mark the anniversary of the 1973 royal decree banning political parties.
2007 July - Thousands protest in the commercial capital Manzini to press for democratic reforms.
2008 February - Opposition groups decide to boycott forthcoming elections as part of their campaign for multi-party elections.
2008 September - Elections held, boycotted by opposition.
Authorities blame failed bomb attack near a royal palace on opposition Pudemo party.
2008 November - Pudemo leader Mario Masuku detained under anti-terror laws over palace bomb attempt.
2009 September - Opposition leader Mario Masuku released from prison, says he will continue to fight for democracy.
2010 September - Pro-democracy demonstrators march through Manzini, despite the arrest of some 50 activists the previous day.
2011 March - Economic crisis worsens, with government warning of possible civil service pay cuts.
2011 April - Police crack down on opposition ahead of planned demonstrations for political reform.
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