Local Governance and Traditional Authority in the Kingdom of Eswatini: The Evolving Tinkhundla Regime
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African Studies, 80:2, 249-272, DOI: 10.1080/00020184.2021.1940843
Landmark constitutional and local government reforms have reshaped local governance in the Kingdom of Eswatini, formerly the Kingdom of Swaziland, since the promulgation of the first post-independence constitution in 2005. After more than 30 years of suspended constitutional rule under the leadership of the Ngwenyama (the Lion) and King governed by the Swazi system of traditional authority, a critical step has been taken to define and regulate the dual system of authority, constituted of administrative local government and traditional leaders. However, the legacy of the long-established bifurcated system of local governance has proven challenging to overcome. This article presents a view of the Kingdom of Eswatini from the perspective of local administration, which at present maintains two systems of governance – urban local government and the tinkhundla (traditional authority systems that operate the length and breadth of the country, including in urban areas). In the face of urbanisation, the administrative state has developed and modified its approach to urban management and engagement with traditional authorities over time. Drawing on a case study of the Mbabane upgrading and finance project, launched in 2005 and aimed at creating a ‘city without slums’, this paper analyses how local authorities in Eswatini responded to the imperative to engage with traditional authorities in the wake of unsuccessful and sustained efforts to bypass their influence. Three different strategies were adopted by the urban local authorities to effectively govern urban areas and manage the influence of traditional authorities. These shifting strategies reflect the evolving policy agenda at the urban scale in Eswatini and the limitations of a rigid bifurcated system in contemporary Swazi cities.