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MBABANE –The office that advises US President Joe Biden says Eswatini courts are generally independent of executive control.

In its 2022 Biennial Report on the Implementation of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) states that the current judicial process in Eswatini is procedurally competent, fair and reliable. However, it said the capacity of the judiciary to handle cases in a timely manner was extremely limited, creating significant case backlogs. It is stated in the report that a handful of political parties are now registered as associations and hold bank accounts through which they manage resources for training, advocacy, and other activities. “The courts are generally independent of executive control or influence as outlined by the Swati Constitution,” it is mentioned in the report.
Further reads the report: “the current judicial process is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable, although the capacity of the judiciary to handle cases in a timely manner is extremely limited, creating significant case backlogs.”

The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) was created in 1962 to advise the president on trade issues, lead international trade negotiations, oversee the resolution of disputes, enforcement actions and other matters before global trade policy organisations, such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO). It has been learnt that the current officeholder is Katherine Chi Tai, an American attorney, serving as the 19th United States Trade Representative since March 18, 2021. The daughter of Waishengren immigrants from Taiwan, Tai is the first Asian-American to serve in the position. She reports directly to the US president.

This is a lie – SWADEPA

Barnes Dlamini, the President of the Swaziland Democratic Party (SWADEPA) described the assertion that political parties were free to register as associations as a very disturbing lie. Dlamini said departments of the United States Government should speak with one voice. He said SWADEPA’s bank account with one of the country’s financial institutions could be dormant very soon because they had been advised to register with the Registrar of Companies. The president mentioned that the registrar of companies had adamantly refused to register political parties. He pointed out that political parties were not free in the country, making an example of Khaya Gina, who lost his job as a registration clerk for the Elections and Boundaries Commission because he is a member of SWADEPA.


“He wasn’t dismissed for lack of skill but because he was seen wearing a t-shirt bearing the name of our political party. In fact, he was dismissed for affiliation,” said Dlamini. In its 2022 report on Eswatini, the US Department of State said the Constitution and law provided for an independent judiciary, but civil society alleged that the government often failed to respect judicial independence. The Department of State said although the judiciary generally enforced most rights to a fair public trial, prolonged delays during trials in magistrate courts and the High Court were common. It said defendants and their attorneys sometimes lacked access to relevant government-held evidence such as postmortem reports and ballistic evidence. “Although a 2018 High Court ruling determined that the Constitution is the law of the land and takes precedence over traditional law, there was sometimes no clear delineation of jurisdiction between the two legal systems and this gray area allowed for judicial discretion and alleged government interference,” reads the report compiled by the US Department of State, the equivalent of a Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Back to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, it also reported that Eswatini was thrust by the 2021 civil unrest into international spotlight.


It said the country experienced an unprecedented period of protests and government crackdowns in which dozens of people died. The USTR stated that long-simmering public dissatisfaction with police impunity, economic inequality and flagrant royal family excess sparked the unrest. This resulted in calls by civil society and international observers for inclusive dialogue. It is said that Eswatini is a monarchy with limited democratic checks on the King’s power. According to the report, the Government of Eswatini has made progress and remains committed to promoting a market-driven economy. “Eswatini has historically leveraged its AGOA preferences,” the USTR said in the report. The report states that government strongly supports AGOA. As a result, government is said to have rolled out an ambitious AGOA implementation strategy to take full advantage of its benefits to help its economy recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is, however, noted that access to financing for small enterprises continues to be challenging. Eswatini is understood to be also suffering from poor policy and administrative coordination, a general lack of procedural transparency, and a lack of clear, up-to-date guidance for business.


Regarding poverty, it is said that Eswatini, during the review period, continued to work with international partners to improve public financial management, support entrepreneurship, strengthen social protection and improve equality and equity concerns, pertaining to vulnerable groups. The country is said to be building on its collaboration with development partners to implement its Poverty Reduction Strategy and Action Plan. Although Eswatini is considered a middle-income country, it has been discovered that it ‘has many characteristics of a low-income country’. “For example, the minimum wage is low; poverty is widespread, and the middle class is small,” reads the report. Pertaining to labour, child labour and human rights, the report states that the Government of Eswatini has made efforts to address child labour and trafficking of persons. During the reporting period, it is said the government convicted an official for sex trafficking and sentenced him to a 55-year prison term.

Freedom of association

It is mentioned in the USTR report that concerns remain with regard to freedom of association and the existence of the worst forms of child labour. Other concerns included restrictions on free expression and media and interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly. With regard to international terrorism and USA national security, it is understood that Eswatini does not support international acts of terrorism, nor engage in activities that undermine the United States’ national security interests.


Eswatini was not the only country that was assessed by the USTR. The USTR states that Botswana remains a long-standing, multi-party democracy with free and fair elections. Botswana, presently eligible for AGOA, is traditionally cited as one of the least corrupt countries in Africa. It is mentioned that the judiciary is independent from the legislative and executive branches and produces predictable, law-based decisions. Despite Botswana’s progress, it has also been mentioned that parliamentary oversight is weak because the legislature lacks adequate enforcement mechanisms and is highly dependent on the executive branch. Throughout the reporting period, Botswana has taken steps towards greater transparency, however, freedom of information legislation has yet to be realised.


The USTR stated that Zambia has maintained a long tradition of rule of law, a clear separation of powers and an effective and responsible judiciary. It is said that Zambia has remained politically stable since 1964 and continues to hold parliamentary and presidential elections every five years. However, the run-up to national elections scheduled for August 2021 was marred by violent clashes between supporters of the two main political parties. It is stated in the report that the government took steps that undermined opposition parties, including targeted harassment of opposition party leaders and members, closure of independent media outlets, and inconsistent enforcement of public safety and public health legislation. After a decade of democratic backsliding, the Zambian’s elected President Hakainde Hichilema, who expresses a commitment to national reconciliation and protecting fundamental freedoms.
It is said the media environment in Zambia remains constrained, with the government regularly issuing punitive threats against critical news outlets. The police service, marred by corruption and bribery is also an area of concern. Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index placed Zambia at 117 out of 180 countries monitored.


According to the report, Lesotho, since 2020, the new administration has not attempted to interfere in the courts and law enforcement to protect the interests of politically well-connected individuals. While the government has made some progress on rule of law reforms, it is reported that progress has been slow-moving.  In collaboration with the High Court, the USTR stated that Lesotho’s Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences was in the process of establishing a specialised anti-corruption court to address a backlog of cases in the courts of law. It must be said that Transparency International ranked Lesotho 96 out of 180 countries in its 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index.


It must be said that Ethiopia’s AGOA eligibility was terminated in 2022. According to the report, upon taking office in 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali launched a sweeping reform programme that included recognising and allowing opposition political groups to operate freely, releasing and pardoning regime opponents, easing restrictions on the media, and revising legislation to allow NGOs greater freedom to operate. In Ethiopia, the Constitution and law provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, with federal elections taking place every five years. It has been discovered that the judiciary continues to be overburdened and struggles to provide due process consistently, particularly at the regional level.
Nevertheless, several high-profile cases have reflected a marked increase in transparency and independence at the federal level. The trade representative mentioned in the report that opposition political parties in Ethiopia were still facing notable challenges, sporadic incidents of intimidation, brief arrests and other forms of suppression by local government officials.
Ethiopian and foreign businesses routinely encounter corruption in tax collection, customs clearance and land administration. Ethiopia is ranked 87 out of 180 countries in the 2021 Transparency International Corruptions Perception Index.


Zimbabwe is not eligible for AGOA. Although Zimbabwe committed itself to broad political reforms after the 2018 elections, the trade representative said the country made little progress and regressed in some areas. In Zimbabwe, it is said that the justice system suffers from political interference, resulting in a culture of impunity within the security sector. The trade representative said Zimbabwe’s judiciary lacked independence and impartiality as judges often used the law selectively to prosecute the ruling party’s political opponents. Despite government pledges to stamp out corruption and the granting of new powers to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, it has been mentioned that the government had a track record of selective prosecution. According to the report, it had targeted and repeatedly arrested journalists, politicians, and activists who highlight cases of high-level corruption. Zimbabwe ranks 157 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index.

South Africa

According to the USTR report on AGOA, South Africa remained committed to democracy, the rule of law, the right to due process, a fair trial, and equal protection. The USA says there is equal protection in law in South Africa, despite the reported Phala Phala farm robbery scandal. South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa allegedly kept large sums of money in foreign currency, estimated to be US$4 million, the equivalent of E72 million. The money was allegedly ‘concealed’ under a mattress and couches at his farm in Bela-Bela, Limpopo. The president has not been arrested. The government has restarted economic reform and undertaken visible efforts to tackle corruption. Attempts to use the legislature to hold the president accountable to the Phala Phala farm incident has not yielded fruit.


According to the report from the USTR, South Africa’s strong political and judicial institutional frameworks, girded by its highly liberal Constitution, continue to guide public life and set aspirations for the society. Deficiencies with enforcement, however, particularly among the police force, remained acute. Corruption and uneven police performance are considered common and widespread. South Africa ranked 70 out of 180 in the 2021 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. It is said that South Africa has the most advanced and diversified economy in Africa. In 2021, it was recognised as the continent’s largest trading partner with the United States. It actually boasts a sophisticated financial sector with well-developed institutions and incorporates an open, rules-based trading system. South Africa is understood to be a destination conducive to USA investment, and has a market-oriented and dynamic business community.