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Explained: Why many heard of Eswatini for the first time in a PM Modi tweet

Although officially renamed Eswatini in 2018, the landlocked country in southern Africa, is more well-known in India by its former name Swaziland.

Written by Explained Desk | Kolkata | Updated: December 23, 2020 12:26:38 pm
Eswatini, Eswatini africa, Eswatini country, where is Eswatini, Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini, Swaziland, indian express explainedEswatini's Prime Minister Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini died of Covid-19 recently. (Source: Twitter/@EswatiniGovern1)

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered a condolence message following the death of Eswatini’s Prime Minister Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini, who had tested positive for Covid-19 four weeks ago, the name of the country came as news for some Indian social media users.

Although officially renamed Eswatini in 2018, the landlocked country in southern Africa, is more well-known in India by its former name Swaziland.

Why did Swaziland change its name to Eswatini?

In April 2018, King Mswati III of Swaziland announced that he was renaming the country ‘the Kingdom of eSwatini’. The name is sometimes also spelled as ‘Eswatini’. The announcement for the name change occurred during celebrations for 50 years of Swazi independence from British rule, that coincided with those for the king’s 50th birthday.

Eswatini means ‘land of the Swazis’ in Swazi language and was an extant name given how King Mswati III had always referred to the country by this name. The most prominent use of this name occured when the King referred to the country as ‘Eswatini’ during his address at the UN General Assembly in 2017 and earlier in 2014, during the state opening of the parliament in the country.

When the name change had occurred, the king had explained the move saying there were some who would mistakenly refer to the country as Switzerland. By implementing this name change, he had hoped that this would happen less. Shedding the country’s colonial past was another reason. In 2018, the king had said: “African countries on getting independence reverted to their ancient names before they were colonised. So from now on the country will officially be known as the Kingdom of eSwatini.”

Can a country’s name change occur this way?

There are a few reasons why a country may want to change its name. Sometimes, it is because there is a desire to shed the traces of its brutal colonial past, while at other times, it is an attempt to foster a sense of national pride and identity.

In modern history, following the decolonization of Africa, several countries decided to rename themselves. For instance, Nyasaland in central Africa was renamed Malawi, Bechuanaland became the Republic of Botswana in 1966, the Republic of Upper Volta was renamed Burkina Faso, while Gold Coast became Ghana.

Sometimes, political factors influence name changes. In 1989, Burma’s name was changed to Myanmar by the country’s military junta, in a move that was justified as an attempt to align the country’s name with one in the Burmese language, simultaneously divesting it of its colonial legacy. The move was controversial, in part because it was done without a referendum, but was endorsed by the United Nations only days later. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

What happened in the case of Eswatini?

The decision to change the name of the country appears to have been one unilaterally taken by King Mswati III. At that time, critics had said that the king should instead focus on the state of the country’s economy and issues like health care. Eswatini has the world’s highest prevalence rate for HIV/Aids with low life expectancy for both men and women.

In contrast, the king lives a lavish life with 15 wives. There are severe curbs on political parties and freedom of speech and issues such as discrimination towards girls and women is widespread.

But King Mswati III heads Africa’s last remaining absolute monarchy. In fact, around the world, there are only three other absolute monarchies: Brunei, the Sultanate of Oman and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. So King Mswati III does indeed have the powers to change the name of his country if he so desires.

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