Autonomy for the Swazis of southern Africa was guaranteed by the British in the late 19th century; independence was granted in 1968. Student and labor unrest during the 1990s pressured King MSWATI III, Africa's last absolute monarch, to grudgingly allow political reform and greater democracy, although he has backslid on these promises in recent years. A constitution came into effect in 2006, but the legal status of political parties was not defined and their status remains unclear. Swaziland has surpassed Botswana as the country with the world's highest known HIV/AIDS prevalence rate.
A small, landlocked kingdom, Swaziland is bordered in the north, west and south by the Republic of South Africa and by Mozambique in the east. Swaziland depends on South Africa for 60% of its exports and for more than 90% of its imports. Swaziland's currency is pegged to the South African rand, effectively relinquishing Swaziland's monetary policy to South Africa. The government is dependent on customs duties from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) for 49% of revenue; income tax accounts for 27% and a valued added tax for 19% of revenues. Swaziland is a lower middle income country, but its income distribution is highly skewed, with an estimated 20% of the population controlling 80% of the nation’s wealth. As of 2017, more than one-quarter of the adult population was infected by HIV/AIDS; Swaziland has the world’s highest HIV prevalence rate.Subsistence agriculture employs approximately 70% of the population. The manufacturing sector diversified in the 1980s and 1990s, but manufacturing has grown little in the last decade. Sugar and soft drink concentrate are the largest foreign exchange earners. Mining has declined in importance in recent years. Coal, gold, diamond, and quarry stone mines are small scale, and the only iron ore mine closed in 2014.With an estimated 28% unemployment rate, Swaziland's need to increase the number and size of small and medium enterprises and to attract foreign direct investment is acute. On 1 January 2015, Swaziland lost its eligibility for benefits under the US African Growth and Opportunity Act after failing to meet benchmarks relating to workers’ rights.The IMF forecasted that Swaziland’s economy will grow at a slower pace in 2017 because of a region-wide drought, which is likely to hurt Swaziland’s revenue from sugar exports and other agricultural products; tourism and transport sectors will also decline. Overgrazing, soil depletion, drought, and floods are persistent problems. Swaziland’s revenue from SACU receipts also are projected to decline in 2017, making it harder for the government to maintain fiscal balance.