How Switzerland made this African country change its name (kind of)

Constant confusion with Switzerland forced this African king to change his country's name (at least partially).

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) poses with King Mswati III, Head of State, of eSwatini. Photo: LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP
"No Mr Macron, we are not neighbours". French President Emmanuel Macron (R) poses with King Mswati III, Head of State, of eSwatini. Photo: LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP

Someone mispronouncing or misspelling your name is annoying enough when ordering coffee or picking up a pizza, so imagine how the African nation formerly known as Swaziland felt when people kept confusing it for Switzerland. 

From having the wrong flags flown and a different anthem played at official events, to bizarre jokes about banks, chocolate and cheese, Swaziland was particularly perturbed by the continual confusion. 

The annoyance was so pronounced for Swaziland, that they decided they’d had enough of the mixups and would change their name entirely. 

“I would like to announce that from today onwards, our country will be known as the Kingdom of Eswatini,” said King Mswati III, when the name was changed in 2018. 

“Whenever we go abroad, people refer to us as Switzerland.”

The name was not just confused at events and functions, however. 

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation reportedly got the two countries mixed up in an investigation into hacking. 

READ ALSO: Switzerland or Swaziland? the FBI appears confused

While it might sound like a significant change, in reality the name means the same, but is expressed in the local language rather than in English. 

The name Eswatini – sometimes stylised almost in tech form as eSwatini – means ‘land of the Swazi’, who are the people who inhabit the state. 

Switzerland on the other hand has a more complicated history with regard to its name, although ‘land of the Swiss’ isn’t really that far off. 

READ MORE: Why is Switzerland called Switzerland?

Swiss confusion wasn’t the only reason for the name change however, with the alteration coming on the country’s 50th anniversary of independence. 

Mswati III said the country wanted to abandon the colonial associations brought with the name 

“Swaziland will now return to its original name” he said when making the announcement. 

Several southern African states have changed their names after independence, with Rhodesia becoming Zimbabwe, Nyassaland becoming Malawi, and Bechuanaland becoming Botswana.

Eswatini. Not a Rostigraben in sight.

For anyone who still might be a little confused, we’ve done up a short summary of the major similarities and differences between the two countries. 

READ ALSO: Switzerland versus Swaziland – how they stack up

Three years since the change was made, most International organisations have recognised the new name

Mswati III is Africa’s last absolute monarch and has come under fire for his lavish lifestyle, despite the vast majority of the country living in relative poverty. 

His official Twitter bio – or at least a relatively official-looking Twitter bio – is quick to mention his wealth. 

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Is Switzerland’s male-only mandatory military service ‘discriminatory’?

Under Swiss law, all men must serve at least one year in compulsory national service. But is this discriminatory?

Swiss military members walk across a road carrying guns
A new lawsuit seeks to challenge Switzerland's male-only military service requirement. Is this discriminatory? FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

All men aged between the ages of 18 and 30 are required to complete compulsory military service in Switzerland. 

A lawsuit which worked its way through the Swiss courts has now ended up in the European Court of Human Rights, where the judges will decide if Switzerland’s male-only conscription requirement violates anti-discrimination rules. 

Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper wrote on Monday the case has “explosive potential” and has “what it takes to cause a tremor” to a policy which was first laid out in Switzerland’s 1848 and 1874 Federal Constitutions. 

What is Switzerland’s compulsory military service? 

Article 59 of the Federal Constitution of Switzerland says “Every man with Swiss citizenship is liable for military service. Alternative civilian service shall be provided for by law.”

Recruits must generally do 18 weeks of boot camp (longer in some cases). 

They are then required to spend several weeks in the army every year until they have completed a minimum 245 days of service.

Military service is compulsory for Swiss men aged 18 and over. Women can chose to do military service but this is rare.

What about national rather than military service? 

Introduced in 1996, this is an alternative to the army, originally intended for those who objected to military service on moral grounds. 

READ MORE: The Swiss army’s growing problem with civilian service

Service is longer there than in the army, from the age of 20 to 40. 

This must be for 340 days in total, longer than the military service requirement. 

What about foreigners and dual nationals? 

Once you become a Swiss citizen and are between the ages of 18 and 30, you can expect to be conscripted. 

READ MORE: Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?

In general, having another citizenship in addition to the Swiss one is not going to exempt you from military service in Switzerland.

However, there is one exception: the obligation to serve will be waved, provided you can show that you have fulfilled your military duties in your other home country.

If you are a Swiss (naturalised or not) who lives abroad, you are not required to serve in the military in Switzerland, though you can voluntarily enlist. 

How do Swiss people feel about military and national service? 

Generally, the obligation is viewed relatively positively, both by the general public and by those who take part in compulsory service. 

While several other European countries have gotten rid of mandatory service, a 2013 referendum which attempted to abolish conscription was rejected by 73 percent of Swiss voters. 

What is the court case and what does it say? 

Martin D. Küng, the lawyer from the Swiss canton of Bern who has driven the case through the courts, has a personal interest in its success. 

He was found unfit for service but is still required to pay an annual bill to the Swiss government, which was 1662CHF for the last year he was required to pay it. 

While the 36-year-old no longer has to pay the amount – the obligation only lasts between the ages of 18 and 30 – Küng is bring the case on principle. 

So far, Küng has had little success in the Swiss courts, with his appeal rejected by the cantonal administrative court and later by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. 

Previous Supreme Court cases, when hearing objections to men-only military service, said that women are less suitable for conscription due to “physiological and biological differences”.

In Küng’s case, the judges avoided this justification, saying instead that the matter was a constitutional issue. 

‘No objective reason why only men have to do military service’

He has now appealed the decision to the European level. 

While men have previously tried and failed when taking their case to the Supreme Court, no Swiss man has ever brought the matter to the European Court of Human Rights. 

Küng told the NZZ that he considered the rule to be unjust and said the Supreme Court’s decision is based on political considerations. 

“I would have expected the Federal Supreme Court to have the courage to clearly state the obvious in my case and not to decide on political grounds,” Küng said. 

“There is no objective reason why only men have to do military service or pay replacement taxes. On average, women may not be as physically productive as men, but that is not a criterion for excluding them from compulsory military service. 

There are quite a few men who cannot keep up with women in terms of stamina. Gender is simply the wrong demarcation criterion for deciding on compulsory service. If so, then one would have to focus on physical performance.”

Is it likely to pass? 

Küng is optimistic that the Strasbourg court will find in his favour, pointing to a successful appeal by a German man who complained about a fire brigade tax, which was only imposed on men. 

“This question has not yet been conclusively answered by the court” Küng said. 

The impact of a decision in his favour could be considerable, with European law technically taking precedence over Swiss law.

It would set Switzerland on a collision course with the bloc, particularly given the popularity of the conscription provision. 

Küng clarified that political outcomes and repercussions don’t concern him. 

“My only concern is for a court to determine that the current regulation is legally wrong.”