Africa's last absolute monarch renames Swaziland as "eSwatini"

MBABANE, April 19 (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 UN 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 colonized by the British.

The impoverished southern African nation - a member of the Commonwealth - gained independence from Britain in 1968.

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Swaziland's King Mswati III
Swazilands King Mswati III addresses the 72nd Session of the United Nations General assembly at the UN headquarters in New York on September 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA - JULY 2: King of Swaziland Mswati III arrives to Bole International Airport ahead of the 29th African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on July 2, 2017. (Photo by Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Swaziland absolute Monarch King Mswati III (L) bestows the Order of the Elephant to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (R) during her visit to the Kingdom of Swaziland at an official ceremony on April 18, 2018 in Lozitha Palace, Manzini. / AFP PHOTO / MONGI ZULU (Photo credit should read MONGI ZULU/AFP/Getty Images)
LOBAMBA, SWAZILAND - AUGUST 28: Mswati III (C) attends a traditional ceremony, Umhlanga Festival at Ludzidzini Royal Village in Lobamba, Swaziland on August 28, 2016. Umhlanga, also known as Reed Dance, is a traditional ceremony of Kingdom of Swaziland. Reeds which are chosen by thousands of Swazi girls, are used for making fence of kingdom house. It's symbolize the social labor and social solidarity. (Photo by Ihsaan Haffejee/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
King Mswati III of the Kingdom of Swaziland (L) and South Africa's President Jacob Zuma share a light moment as they depart from the closing ceremony of the 37th Southern African Development Community (SADC) Summit of Heads of State and Government at The OR Tambo Building in Pretoria on August 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / GULSHAN KHAN (Photo credit should read GULSHAN KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
King Mswati III of the Kingdom of Swaziland gestures as he sits at the closing ceremony of the 37th Southern African Development Community (SADC) Summit of Heads of State and Government at The OR Tambo Building in Pretoria on August 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / GULSHAN KHAN (Photo credit should read GULSHAN KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Swaziland King Mswati III (3R) greets Chad's President Idriss D�y Itno (3L) as they prepare to pose for the class photo at the India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi on October 29, 2015. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will spell out his vision for the future of his country's economic relations with Africa, as he addresses the major India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi. AFP PHOTO /ROBERTO SCHMIDT (Photo credit should read ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)
Swaziland King Mswati III shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) during their meeting at the India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi on October 28, 2015. The event, postponed since December over the Ebola crisis, is the first under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and is the biggest gathering of foreign dignitaries in the country since 1983 with some 1,000 delegates. AFP PHOTO / PRAKASH SINGH (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)
Swaziland King Mswati III arrives to attend the inauguration of new Nigerian President at the Eagles Square in Abuja, on May 29, 2015. Mohammadu Buhari, 72, defeated Goodluck Jonathan in March 28 elections -- the first time in Nigeria's history that an opposition candidate had beaten a sitting president. AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (Photo credit should read PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
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"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)

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