Swaziland king renames country ‘the Kingdom of eSwatini’

King Mswati III, centre, has ruled the country since 1986
King Mswati III, centre, has ruled the country since 1986

There are not many people in the world who are able to change the name of a nation. But King Mswati can – he is one of the world’s few absolute monarchs.

King Mswati III of Swaziland announced on Wednesday that he was renaming the country “the Kingdom of eSwatini”.

The monarch announced the official change in a stadium during celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Swazi independence.

The celebrations also marked the king’s 50th birthday.

The new name, eSwatini, means “land of the Swazis”. The change was unexpected, but King Mswati has been referring to Swaziland for years as eSwatini.

It was the name the king used when he addressed the UN general assembly in 2017 and at the state opening of the country’s parliament in 2014.

He explained that the name had caused some confusion, saying: “Whenever we go abroad, people refer to us as Switzerland.”

The BBC’s Nomsa Maseko in Swaziland says the announcement of the name change has angered some in the country, who believe the king should focus more on the nation’s sluggish economy.

Swaziland’s leadership has been criticised by human rights activists for banning political parties and discriminating against women.

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Lesser-known facts about Swaziland

  • Africa’s last remaining absolute monarchy
  • A landlocked country, smaller than the US state of New Jersey
  • King Mswati III currently has 15 wives; his predecessor had 125
  • Has the world’s highest prevalence rate for HIV/Aids
  • Low life expectancy with 54 years for men, 60 for women

More about the country

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The son of Sobhuza II, who reigned for 82 years, King Mswati currently has 15 wives. According to official biographers, his father took 125 wives during his reign.

The king, known as Ngwenyama or “the lion”, is known for his many wives and for his adherence to traditional dress.

Celebrations marking Swaziland's 50th anniversary of independence and the king's birthday
Image captionThe name change was announced at the country’s joint independence and monarch’s birthday celebrations

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