MBABANE (Reuters) - Swaziland’s King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch, said on Thursday he was officially renaming the country as the Kingdom of eSwatini.
He announced the change to eSwatini, meaning “land of the Swazis”, in the local Swati language at Golden Jubilee celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Swazi independence and of his 50th birthday.
The king has referred to the “Kingdom of eSwatini” several times in recent years - in an address to the U.N. General Assembly in 2017 and at African Union and other international conferences.
Addressing a large gathering in a stadium in the second city of Manzini, 40 km (25 miles) east of the capital Mbabane, the king said Swaziland was reverting to the original name it had before being colonised by the British.
The impoverished southern African nation - a member of the Commonwealth - gained independence from Britain in 1968.
“I would like to announce that from today onwards, our country will be known as the Kingdom of eSwatini,” the king said.
He said the name “Swaziland” had caused confusion. “Whenever we go abroad, people refer to us as Switzerland,” the king said.
The king, who wore a red and black military uniform and rode in an open car into the stadium, said he wanted his country to have a name people could identify with.
Most of the king’s subjects eke out a living in agriculture, often cultivating sugar. There is widespread poverty in a country with the world’s highest HIV/AIDS rate.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen attended the event while on a visit to a country which is one of the few to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan rather than Beijing.
It is Tsai’s first trip to Africa since assuming the presidency in 2016.
Writing by James Macharia; editing by Andrew Roche