The King of Swaziland has announced that the country will be officially renamed ‘The Kingdom of eSwatini’. King Mswati III made the announcement during celebrations to mark both his 50th birthday and the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence. In his speech, the king declared that the name change would take effect “from today forward”.
The timing of the announcement is significant. Although King Mswati III has been using the name ‘The Kingdom of eSwatini’ for years, including in the nation’s parliament and at the UN General Assembly, he has never made any attempt to officially change the name until now. But with national pride experiencing a high as they celebrate their independence, now may be the perfect time to shed the name given to the country during British occupation.
In English, the name ‘eSwatini’ means ‘Land of the Swazis’, so it is not a particularly dramatic change. But for many citizens, it is a point of key cultural significance, as they see keeping half their country’s name in English as an affront to their culture and independence. The king also gave another, more surprising reason for the name change: he claimed people around the world kept calling the country ‘Switzerland’.
While some have welcomed the new name, many are indifferent to it and have criticized the king for not dealing with some of the more pressing issues facing the Swazi people today. At 25.9%, the country has the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world, and despite the king living a lavish lifestyle and retaining a personal fortune of an estimated $175 million, 69% of his citizens live below the poverty line.
Although the king introduced the name change with immediate effect, it may require more than just his declaration to enact it. While Swaziland is an absolute monarchy, meaning the king has final say in all matters, the constitution he signed in 2005 prevents him from ruling by decree. This means he may be required to get parliamentary approval, which would then need to be recognized by the UN.