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Swaziland - US Relations

The United States and Swaziland have had good bilateral relations since Swaziland’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1968 as a constitutional monarchy. The United States recognized Swaziland on September 6, 1968, when the American Embassy at Mbabane was established upon Swaziland’s attainment of independence on that same date. Swaziland previously had been under British sovereignty.

During the Cold War, Swaziland was of negligible importance to the United States as a supplier, although it was the world’s fifth largest exporter of asbestos and also exported iron ore and coal. Swaziland, as a stable nation based on racial equality and in close contact with its white-dominated neighbors, was seen as an influence for moderation and evolution away from racial repression and minority white rule in southern Africa.

Five years after independence, Swaziland’s ruler, King Sobhuza II, repealed the constitution. Sobhuza II ruled by decree until 2006, when the country implemented its first constitution in over 30 years. U.S. policy seeks to maintain and strengthen bilateral relations, and stresses Swaziland’s continued political and economic reform.

The United States seeks to maintain and strengthen the good bilateral relations that have existed since the kingdom became independent in 1968. U.S. policy stresses continued economic and political reform and improved industrial relations.

The United States assists Swaziland with a number of HIV/AIDS initiatives and programs implemented through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Health and Human Services/Centers for Disease Control (HHS/CDC), the Peace Corps, African Development Foundation, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Defense (DoD). In June 2009, the U.S. and Swaziland finalized a Partnership Framework Agreement under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). U.S. HIV/AIDS assistance to Swaziland is now approximately $38 million. On April 12, 2010 an additional $15 million was authorized for the Accelerated Saturation Initiative for Male Circumcision, with the funds to be divided amongst the three U.S. Government agencies partnering under the PEPFAR framework in Swaziland: USAID ($9.25 million), HHS/CDC ($5 million), and DoD ($750,000).

The U.S. is also the largest bilateral donor to the Global Fund, Swaziland's principal HIV/AIDS funding source. In addition, the U.S. supports small-enterprise development, education, security sector capacity building, institutional and human resources development, agricultural development, and trade capacity building. The U.S. Government brings about six Swazi professionals to the United States each year, from both the public and private sectors, primarily for master's degrees, and about six others for 3-week to 4-week International Visitor programs. Through the security assistance program, the U.S. brings approximately 25 members of the Swazi security forces to the United States for education and training purposes. The United States also supports Swazi participation in regionally-based training and capacity-building programs, such as at the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in Gaborone, Botswana.

In 2003, Peace Corps volunteers returned to Swaziland after a 9-year absence. In June 2009, the U.S. and Swaziland finalized a memorandum of understanding (MOU) expanding the duties of the Peace Corps mission in Swaziland. The Peace Corps/Swaziland program, known as the Community Health Project, focuses on HIV/AIDS and provides assistance in the execution of two components of the HIV/AIDS national strategy--risk reduction and mitigation of the impact of the disease. Volunteers encourage youth to engage in appropriate behaviors that reduce the spread of HIV; they work with children orphaned by the HIV/AIDS pandemic; and they assist in capacity building for non-governmental organizations and community based organizations.

In 2011, Peace Corps launched a new education project at the request of King Mswati III. Working in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, volunteers focus on a variety of capacity-building initiatives, including computer-skills training, life-skills support, teacher training, and TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language). Volunteers work in areas across the country, living in homesteads with host families, learning SiSwati, and studying cross-cultural practices.

Swaziland ranks as a lower middle income country, but it is estimated that 69 percent of the population lives in poverty. Most of the high-level economic activity is in the hands of non-Africans, but ethnic Swazis are becoming more active. The U.S. supports health promotion and health systems strengthening, entrepreneurship, youth development and education, security sector capacity-building, and trade promotion in Swaziland.

The Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland (GKOS) values its relationship with the United States, both for the prestige of having a major country with a resident diplomatic mission here, and also for the humanitarian assistance the U.S. provides, particularly on HIV/AIDS. The Prime Minister and other Cabinet officials are generally available to meet with the Ambassador or DCM.

GKOS response to US suggestions, demarches, and documents is frequently slow or non-existent. It took steady effort for nearly two years to obtain an Article 98 agreement and the exchange of notes which brought it into effect. Swaziland-specific studies conducted by the USAID Trade Hub in Gaborone -- AGOA diversification, an Investor Roadmap, a study on transportation, and a Combating Corruption in Swaziland Report -- were praised, then shelved. Approximately 20 percent of the Investor Roadmap's recommendations had been implemented by 2010.

Insisting on a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, and solidarity with other African Union nations, the GKOS has not voted with the United States on any of its "important issues" in the UN General Assembly in at least four years, although occasionally it has abstained when other African votes were in opposition.

The country belongs to the Southern African Customs Union, which has signed a Trade, Investment, and Development Cooperative Agreement (TIDCA) with the United States. The TIDCA establishes a forum for consultative discussions, cooperative work, and possible agreements on a wide range of trade issues, with a special focus on customs and trade facilitation, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, and trade and investment promotion. Swaziland also is a member of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, which has a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with the United States.

The U.S. government uses the annual eligibility review process required by the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to engage with sub-Saharan African countries on their progress toward economic, political, and development reform objectives reflected in AGOA’s eligibility criteria. In January 2015, Swaziland became ineligible for preferential trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. US officials met with Swaziland officials over several years to discuss steps to improve labor rights. However, Swaziland did not make the necessary reforms and lost eligibility effective in January 2015.

Over the course of several years, Swaziland made some progress on labor issues, but conditions related to labor rights later deteriorated. U.S. government officials met several times with Swaziland officials to discuss steps to improve labor rights, including a USTR-led interagency trip in April 2014. In particular, the officials were concerned that Swaziland had failed to make continual progress in protecting freedom of association and the right to organize. The US officials were also concerned by Swaziland’s use of security forces and arbitrary arrests to stifle peaceful demonstrations, and the lack of legal recognition for labor and employer federations. Despite US efforts to engage with the country’s government, Swaziland failed to make the necessary reforms.

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Page last modified: 03-05-2017 19:11:13 ZULU