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swaziland-mapPopulation: 1,230,985

HDI ranking: 141/187

HDI score: 0.536

Swaziland is a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament. The country has moved very slowly toward democratic reform—parliamentary elections were held in 1994 and local government “council” elections were held in 1995, but political parties were not allowed to contest in both elections. The monarchy dominates local rural affairs through the traditional chiefdom system. Some progress has been made in devolving authority to the country’s larger urban areas, but central ministries continue to have overall fiscal control (Wunsch, 1998).

Local governance at a glance

  • The constitution sets provisions for local government. The Urban Government Act of 1969 provides the basis for the establishment of local authorities. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development is responsible for local government (CLGF, 2013).
  • Local government is divided into differently structured urban and rural councils. Urban councils are municipalities and the rural councils are called “tinkundla” (singular “inkundla”). The three tiers of government in urban areas are city councils, town councils and town boards. The three tiers in the rural areas are the regional administration, the tinkundla and chiefdoms (CLGF, 2013).
  • There are four regions in the country, each of which have several tinkundla that are managed by a regional administrator through elected members in each inkundla. There are twelve declared urban areas with two city councils, three town councils and seven town boards (CLGF, 2013).
  • There is no gender quota at the local level (Quota Project, 2014).

Civil society actors include

  • The Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organizations (SCCO) is the “broadest civic organization” in the country that conducts “civic education directed toward grassroots communities” in order to “promote acceptance of basic democratic values and respect for human rights” (Freedom House, 2013).
  • The Swaziland United Democratic Fund is a coalition of pro-democracy groups that includes political parties, unions, and churches, primarily established to strengthen civil society unity.
  • The Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice (FSEJ) is an umbrella organization that fosters democratic participation and raises awareness on human rights and constitutional rights among rural populations through civic education.

Capacity building institutions

  • “The Swaziland Local Government Association (SWALGA) is a voluntary organization funded through member subscriptions that is a representative voice of local government and works to develop ways and means of representing the diverse needs of different types of local authorities to promote local democracy, facilitate a sound relationship with central government, strengthen institutions and lobby on legislation affecting local government” (CLGF, 2013).

Fiscal control

  • The municipalities have revenue-raising and budget-setting powers. (CLGF, 2013).
  • Urban councils are funded by central government transfer payments. (CLGF, 2013).
  • The tinkundla are funded by government grants: the Empowerment Fund (SZL 130,000 per year) and the Regional Development Fund (SZL 10m per region per year) (CLGF, 2013).

Key initiatives for participatory local governance

  • Swaziland adopted a new Constitution in 2005 that set out a new electoral framework. The 2005 constitution has provisions for women’s rights, democratization and supports the establishment of local governments (Arial Programme, n.d.).
  • Swaziland enacted the Government Reform and Decentralization Policy in 2005, which promotes and enables “sustainable and participatory local and national economic, political and social development within a decentralized governance framework” (Arial Programme, n.d.).

Challenges for participatory local governance

  • The role of local authorities is limited to services such as infrastructure maintenance and sanitation. These roles apply to the cities that have the capacity to carry them out, while smaller towns rely on the Central Government for these services (World Bank, 2002).
  • Local revenue systems are not extensive, restricting the capacity to meet local service and development needs (Wunsch, 1998).
  • Local governments do not have autonomy to raise funds for capital investments, which reduces the “effectiveness and political ability of urban government and makes forward planning difficult” (Wunsch, 1998).
  • Financial and personnel management is weak. Local authorities are not well-trained and unqualified for positions they hold (Wunsch, 1998).
  • Urban policymakers and administrators do not have effective strategies for “problem identification, planning, programming, budgeting, or implementation capacities” (Wunsch, 1998).
  • Civil society in Swaziland has been described as “weak, fragmented and unable to access and influence decision making both at local and national levels, especially in elections and electoral matters” (EISA).
  • Primary elections were set for August 2013 but were executed with many problems, including some residents boycotting, fights at polling centers and allegations of vote rigging (All Africa, 2013).
  • Women candidates faced obstacles in participating in the 2013 primary elections, with one female candidate initially being banned for wearing pants (IPS News, 2013).

Recent posts on this website about this country:


List of sources (in order of citation):

Wunsch, James S., 1998. African Studies Quarterly. “Decentralization, local governance and democratic transition in Southern Africa: a comparative analysis.”

CLGF, 2013. Country Profile: Swaziland

Quota Project, 2014. “Swaziland.”

Freedom House, 2013. “The Swazi Democratic Movement.”

Arial Programme, n.d.. “Swaziland, General Information on Local Government.”

World Bank, 2002. “The role of local government in effective service delivery in Swaziland.”

Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa. (EISA). “Swaziland: Civil society actors.”

All Africa, 2013. “Swaziland: Swazi primary election shambles.”

IPS News, 2013. “Swazi chiefs shut women out of parliament.”