Swaziland's King Mswati III addresses the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Sept. 20, 2017. The king said that he was officially changing the country's name to eSwatini.
Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images
April 19, 2018 11:29 PM EDT

Exercising one of the perks of being Africa’s last absolute monarch, Swaziland’s King Mswati III announced Thursday that he would officially change the name of his country to the Kingdom of eSwatini.

He declared the surprise decision during a joint celebration of the 50th anniversary of Swazi independence as well as his own 50th birthday, according to Reuters.

On several previous occasions, the king has referred to Swaziland using his preferred term eSwatini, meaning “land of the Swazis” in the Swati language, including during a 2017 address to the U.N. General Assembly.

Speaking to a stadium audience east of the capital on Wednesday, Mswati described the change as reverting back to the country’s original name before colonization by the British, Reuters reports. The country gained independence in 1968.

The king added that the renaming would also help resolve an international branding issue. “Whenever we go abroad, people refer to us as Switzerland,” he said.

Mswati, who is the son of the previous monarch Sobhuza II and reportedly has 15 wives, was crowned in 1986 and rules by decree. He has elicited criticism for his regime’s human rights records, and for living a lavish lifestyle in a small, landlocked nation that has the world’s highest HIV/Aids rates and where most of the population relies on subsistence agriculture.

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Write to Laignee Barron at Laignee.Barron@time.com.

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