Names reflect histories, origins, as well as pride. For regions affected by colonization and imperialism, names can be a painful reminder of supremacy.
As of April 19, 2018, the country formerly known as Swaziland will now officially be called the Kingdom of eSwatini. eSwatini, or “Land of the Swazis”, was the region’s name prior to British colonization. In fact, Swaziland is the anglicized version of the 19th-century king’s name, Mswati II.
The current king, Mswati III explained that his decision was based on the need for Swazis to have a name that they can identify with. “In exercise of the powers conferred on me by section 64 (3) of the Constitution of Swaziland Act No. 1 of 2005, I, Mswati III, King and Ingwenyama of Eswatini makes the declaration that the name of the Kingdom of Swaziland is changed to Kingdom of Eswatini,” read the gazette.
Mswati III, announced the change on its 50th independence day. Changing the name back to what it was originally can be seen as a rejection of colonial powers. The nation was colonized by Britain in 1906, and the Swazis later gained their independence in 1968, during which many other nations were being decolonized.
King Mswati III also feels that the name change will stop people from confusing the country with the European nation of Switzerland. The name change will lead to corrections on their currency, Swaziland Airlink (the national airline), as well as the Central Bank of Swaziland.
It is not unusual for a previously-colonized region to change their name. For instance, Sri Lanka was called Ceylon prior to its 1972 independence. Ghana was known as Gold Coast up until 1957, and Rhodesia changed its name to Zimbabwe in 1979.
While the rejection of colonial rule is a rather common pattern, and a noble one, it is still curious as to why this was on the king’s list of priorities over some more pressing matters. Two-thirds of the developing nation of eSwatini is currently experiencing extreme poverty.
Extreme poverty is defined as living on less than $1.25 per day. The country is landlocked between Mozambique and South Africa, so it is geographically isolated from water and other natural resources. Seventy-five percent of the population of 1.3 million are subsistence farmers, and the nation relies almost entirely on agriculture for their economy.
Not only that, but eSwatini has the highest HIV prevalence in the world; a staggering 25% of the population is infected with the virus, making complications due to HIV/AIDS their leading cause of the death. Not surprisingly, but, unfortunately, their average life expectancy is 55 years old.
Meanwhile, King Mswati III is largely criticized internationally for his lavish lifestyle; he has an overwhelming 15 wives and 25 kids. In 2009, Forbes reported that Swaziland’s king, the last absolute Monarch in Africa, was worth $200 million.
Despite these reports, the ruler remains fairly popular. Although, political parties are not presently recognized and any opposing parties are not permitted in parliament’s chambers.
Internationally, the name change is met with varying opinions. Colonial symbols remain present throughout the world. A statue of former French governor, Louis Faidherbe, remains in Senegal’s city of Saint Louis. Confederate monuments have increasingly become a contentious issue of debate in the southern United States after the protests in Charlottesville. Borders are even a remnant of colonial history.
Some believe that the imperialistic history is offensive and all of its reminders should be thrown away; monuments celebrate that history. Others think that history cannot be erased no matter how painful the memory may be.