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[OPINION] Swaziland: A country by any other name

How much power does King Mswati the third of Swaziland have? A quick Google search will give you a vague idea. The answer to the question does not pop up as an automated entry in the search tab. Google is able to quickly tell us how much power the kings of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and England have (for example), but not the king of Swaziland.

The popular assumption (and not completely incorrect) is the Swazi king has a lot of power. Yes, the country is technically defined as a democracy. In fact, the government itself can be quoted as saying that the country dictates what is true democracy. The king contradicts this definition of the country’s political stance a little bit, referring to Swaziland rather as a ‘monarchical democracy’ - a ‘marriage between the monarch and the ballot box’, according to an article by Africa Check.

The same article on the popular fact-checking website goes ahead and proves though that Swaziland is neither of the sugar-coated states above and is, in fact, an absolute monarchy. So… to answer my first question: How much power does King Mswati the third have?

A lot - All of it, in fact. He calls the shots, he sways the sword and he rules all branches of the government. All judicial powers rest with Mswati as well. He appoints the judges himself, contrary to the international norms of judicial independence, so therefore, there basically is no independent judiciary. And not least of all, he is the only person who is allowed to sign bills into law. And as if that’s not enough - and it most certainly is - it turns out that the king is also in control of what I am assuming is the tiny branch called the ‘renaming of the country tribunal’. Tiny, because its member include just him. If Mswati wants to change the name of his country, he does. And last week, he did.

Swaziland gained independence from the British in 1968. The Brits left, and Swaziland remained, name unchanged.

Unlike, for example, Zimbabwe, the country once known as Rhodesia that dropped its ‘original’ name and wiped British colonialism from its slate. Or Burkina Faso, for example, whose name change occurred on 4 August 1984. President Thomas Sankara got rid of the country’s previous name: Upper Volta – so christened by the French colonialists and chose instead to rename the country after two words from major languages in the region. But Swaziland stayed Swaziland for 50 years after the departure of the British. And now, King Mswati the third, on the country’s 50th birthday since independence has declared that it shall officially be known as eSwatini – reverting to its pre-colonial title.

Why now? Who can say? But according to several interviews, and I refer to specifically one given to the National Geographic here, the king’s biggest gripe with the current name of the country was that too many people outside of Africa confuse Swaziland with Switzerland. There are some similarities. Both countries names begin with an S and end with a ‘land’ and both countries are land-locked. So it’s an easy mistake for any world leader to make, especially Donald Trump, I guess.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.

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