Rights, freedoms and inequality significantly impact Eswatini’s climate resilience

The recent 2022 Global Rights Index has listed Eswatini as one of the 10 worst countries in the world for workers and their rights. This is another accolade we would do well in addressing, alongside some others – such as also being in the top 10 countries with the highest wealth inequality, as well as being designated as distinctly Not Free in the 2022 Freedom House global report.

We could argue about these unwanted distinctions, or, like many, just ignore them and focus on the pretty scenery and forced smiles; but the facts consistently point towards inevitable trouble for the country (history, after all, shows us that the patience of people is distinctly finite).

On the back of catastrophic job losses and set-backs wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, not to mention years of apathy, foreign dependency, corruption, misdirected investment, depleted schools and hospitals, cronyism and generally lackluster development policies, it is little wonder that people are increasingly fed-up.

A country full of socio-economically crippled households and young people without prospects or dreams will not endure downtrodden uncertainty forever. At some point there will come a spark that meets this dry grass – and that is what the nation saw in 2021 when nation-wide protests shook us to our core. We cannot, and we should not, be surprised. This was/is merely the culminating reality of the gradual eradication of opportunities (and hope) for the majority of people.

And here we are a year on from the 2021 protests; seemingly none the wiser, and no closer to the “urgent” dialogue that is so needed; no closer to solutions or reform; no closer to apologies or understanding; no closer to plans that speak to the realities on the ground. We are left, instead, to deal with even more uncertainty and lack of direction than ever before, with our own local systemic roller-coaster being exacerbated by foreign wars, global recessions and myriad supply chain logistics (we can, sadly, only expect the price of fuel and food to up as the year continues).

So, what does this have to do with climate change?

Our socioeconomic realities dictate our ability to be informed, active and empowered citizens. When our opportunities are suppressed, especially for accessing even the most basic of necessities or rights, then we de facto become less resilient. This means that we are less able to deal with the next shock; we fall deeper than the previous time, and ultimately widen the inequality gap further as those with resources (the wealthy minority) shield their shocks and weather the storm.

The withholding or suppression of equitable human rights, access to resources, access to opportunities and access to dreams widens the poverty gap further, necessitating a day-to-day mentality of survival. How is one supposed to be prepared for future shocks when they fail to even realise today’s basic goals of providing food on the table, or hope in the hearts of their children?

“Tomorrow’s problems”, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, human rights or mental health will always be kicked further down the road as we struggle to solve today’s issues – only to wake up one day fully unprepared for the consequences that were inevitably lurking and waiting to pounce.

Make no mistake about it – economic poverty is social poverty is climate poverty. Our collective livelihoods and futures are inextricably linked, and the eroding of equal opportunities for everyone will cause deep scars in our ability to be resilient and adapt to the greatest threats that we are yet to collectively face. After all, poverty exacerbates environmental degradation, and vice versa – the wicked cycle feeds itself and takes us further away from our collective goals and desires.

Climate change is already here – and it stands to get far, far worse, with Southern Africa slated to be particularly hard hit (despite contributing very little to the problem in the first place). This is the reality we will all be facing in our own lifetimes over the coming years and decades – not in some mythical far-off future.

Change is the only certainty in life. If we decide to cling on to the systemic relics of greed and polarisation, of fossil fuels and poverty-wages, then we all but guarantee that the change we experience will be devastating (not an overstatement).

If, however, we learn to turn this ship around, and begin rebuilding our society around participation, equitable access and the equal rights of nature and all people (both living and yet-to-be-born), then perhaps we might just stand a chance of collective salvation. We need a rapid, just and equitable transition to systems that power our economies sustainably, preserve and restore nature, and value and reward us all equally.

Today is a good day to start demanding and/or building that future. It’s up to us, it always has been.