The king of Swaziland, Africa’s last absolute monarch, has changed the name of his country to the “Kingdom of eSwatini” to mark the 50th anniversary of independence – and to avoid confusion with Switzerland.
King Mswati III announced the move during a golden jubilee ceremony celebrating freedom from British colonial rule. He said the country’s new name was used by Swaziland before it was colonized.
Speaking to a large crowd in a stadium in the city of Manzini, 40 km (25 miles) from the capital Mbabane, the king said: “African countries on getting independence reverted to their ancient names before they were colonized. So from now on the country will be officially be known as the Kingdom of eSwatini,” the AFP news agency reported.
The name “Swaziland”, the King said, had caused confusion. “Whenever we go abroad, people refer to us as Switzerland,” he added.
In recent years, the ruler has referred several times to the “Kingdom of eSwatini”, which means “land of the Swazis” in the local language.
He used it an address to the UN General Assembly in 2017 and at the state opening of the country’s parliament this year.
The name change was greeted with mixed emotions, with some saying the country had more pressing issues, such as poverty and health care.
The southern African nation, a Commonwealth member, suffers from severe poverty and has the world’s highest HIV/AIDS rate. Most of the king’s 1.4 million subjects work as agricultural laborers.
“When read a particular way, it does sound a bit like a start up,” tweeted Usman Ali, who said he was born in Swaziland. “I’m all for going back to pre-colonial names though. Where it lies on the priority list is the issue.”
“Swaziland or Eswatini, we’re still hungry,” tweeted Notsile Nkambule.
The king was crowned in 1986 and has often been criticized by human rights groups for his lavish lifestyle and oppressive policies.
Unlike some African countries, Swaziland, landlocked between South Africa and Mozambique, did not change its name when it gained independence in 1968.
After independence, Rhodesia changed its name to Zimbabwe, Nyasaland to Malawi, and Bechuanaland to Botswana.