The last African absolute monarchy officially renames itself as Kingdom of eSwatini.
King of Swaziland Mswati iii (front) and his wife disembark a plane after arriving at Katunayake International airport in Colombo August 13, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
Renaming a country is no small task. New bank bills must be printed, official letterheads, uniforms, and flags need to be remade, official documents rewritten and protocols designed, all of which is not only laborious but also expensive.
That’s probably why it doesn’t happen very often.
However, this is precisely what the king and head of the royal family of Swaziland decided to do last week during the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence from British rule.
King Mswati the third, who is as old as the country’s independence and has ruled since the age of 18, renamed Swaziland as the Kingdom of eSwatini. If at first it might sound like he is adjusting the country’s name to the age of electronic mail, it in fact means “land of the Swazis”, in the Swazi language.
Speaking to a stadium full of his subjects, the king explained that for too long people around the world had confused Swaziland with another relatively small, landlocked country called Switzerland, and that the time to put an end to this damaging mistake has finally come.
In doing so, the monarch is actually returning his nation to its original pre-colonial name. This practice is aligned with most former European colonies in Africa, although the decision comes considerably later than the likes of Malawi, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia, all of which altered their names after regaining independence decades ago.
Now the legwork will have to start. License plates, road signs, postage stamps, the name of the national airline, the constitution, the police and military uniforms, the national football team’s jerseys, all the country’s bank bills, they all carry the name of Swaziland and will need to be changed.
The country’s applications with supranational institutions like the UN and other international partnerships will also need revision. A myriad of official and unofficial websites will have to be updated to feature the new name, including the national government’s, which has a few new articles referring eSwatini but remains largely unchanged.
The internet domain itself, SZ, uses letters that are not present in the country’s new name and will likely need to be altered. Text processors like the one this article is being written on will also have to be updated to feature the new name.
Critics of eSwatini’s leader have raised concerns that the move will imply unnecessary costs and labor in a nation already ravaged by poverty, with a failing economy and the world’s highest HIV/AIDS infection rates.
The Ministry of Home Affairs, however, has since indicated that despite the official move, the change in passports, letterheads, and official documents will be phased, and that eSwatini will first make use of all of its existing stock before issuing new documents with the new name.
The costs will in this way be reduced to a minimum. This also means, however, that the citizens of eSwatini will have to continue to endure their country being confused with Switzerland for a little while longer.