Swaziland is now called eSwatini

This is from the AFP:

The king of Swaziland, one of the world’s few absolute monarchs, announced on Thursday that his country had changed its name to eSwatini to mark 50 years since independence from British rule.

Meaning “place of the Swazi”, eSwatini is the Swazi language name for the tiny nation landlocked between South Africa and Mozambique.

… The name Swaziland angers some citizens as it is a mix of Swazi and English.

According to the World Bank, per capita income in eSwatini has been in decline since peaking at just over $4,000 in 2014. One reason for this name change might be King Mswati’s search for legitimacy via other means.

At the same time, I suspect that we will see a lot more changes like this across the Continent over the next several years (even during good economic times). It is the case that more and more African states are finally finding their footing domestically. And as that happens, the African middle class will demand for changes in place names to reflect local cultural tastes and interpretations of history. For example, Lake Victoria will some day become Nam Lolwe, or Nyanza (the Sukuma name for the lake). It was not that long ago that Kenya’s Lake Turkana was named Lake Rudolph (after a crown prince of Austria-Hungary).

It is worth noting that since the end of Apartheid South Africa has gone through an extensive process of changes in place names (for obvious reasons).

Finally, here are the meanings of African country names:

placenames

Some Africanist inside baseball

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Africa’s Billionaires in 2014

Only 9 out of 54 African countries are represented on the 2014 Forbes billionaires list. There are certainly more than 29 dollar billionaires on the Continent (most of the rest being in politics). Let’s consider this list as representative of countries in which (for whatever reason) it is politically safe to be publicly super wealthy – which in and of itself says a lot about how far Nigeria has come.

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Source: Forbes

Some will look at the list and scream inequality. I look at the list and see the proliferation of centres of economic and political power. And a potential source of much-needed intra-elite accountability in African politics. For more on this read Leonardo Arriola’s excellent book on the role of private capital in African politics.

See also this FT story on the impact of currency movements on the wealth of Nigeria’s super rich. Forbes also has a great profile of Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man.

Why are Kenyan politicians politicizing the military?

Botswana, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe are the only continental sub-Saharan African states to have never experienced military rule. Each country has managed to do so via well orchestrated coup-proofing strategies of ethnic balancing and material payoffs to the men and women with the guns and tanks. 

Kenya, in particular, has perfected this art. Because of its fractious ethnic politics, ethnic balancing within the officer corps has been key to Kenya’s coup-proofing. Kenyatta (who spoke Kikuyu) had a bit of a hard time in the beginning with a Kamba and Kalenjin speakers dominated military but eventually succeeded in having his co-ethnics in key positions. But before he did so he ensured Kikuyu dominance over the paramilitary force, the General Service Unit (GSU) to balance the military. Through the 60s and 70s, Kenyatta ensured that the GSU and police could handle their own against the military in case stuff hit the fan. Moi continued along this path, so much so that for a while in the media the typical accent of a security officer – whether police or military – became an accent from the North Rift. Under Moi the Kenyan army became “Kalenjin at the bottom, Kalenjin at the middle, and Kalenjin at the top.”

Beyond the ethnic balancing, Kenya has also coup-proofed by keeping the generals wealthy and OUT OF POLITICS – at least not overtly. The generals in Kenya are probably some of the wealthiest on the Continent. I went to high school with the son of an Air Force Major General whose family was always taking foreign trips to exotic places and always made a big splash on visiting days. The only estimates I could find are from the 1960s when nearly “two thirds of the military budget went to pay and allowances, most of it to officers.” A lot of them also got free land for cash crop farming and lucrative business deals (some illegal) from the Kenyatta and Moi governments. Keenly aware of West Africa’s junior officer problem following 1981 Moi extended land grants to junior officers as well. 

But despite their importance as leaders of a key national institution, most Kenyans, yours truly included, do not know much about the top generals in the army. The one chief of staff that I remember hearing a lot about in my childhood days was Gen. Mahmood Mohamed, the man who played a big role in quelling the 1982 coup attempt. For the most part I only saw these guys in the media on national holidays when they rode on the president’s Land Rover. 

In other words, I think it is fair to say that, contrary to arguments made by N’Diaye, for the most part the Kenyan military has historically been fairly professionalized and depoliticized relative to other countries in the neighborhood. There is no evidence to suggest that ethnic balancing has severely interfered with the process of professionalization. Kenyan presidents’ preferred agents for dirty political work have always been the intelligence service, the police and paramilitary units, but never (to the best of my knowledge) the military. Indeed the US and British militaries have had very close technical cooperation with the Kenyan military through training, material assistance and more recently joint operations, resulting in a relatively highly trained force that has for the most part stayed clear of politics.  

But this consensus appears to be slowly eroding. Before the 2013 General Elections the former Prime Minister Raila Odinga accused the military and the intelligence service of colluding with his opponent, Uhuru Kenyatta, to rig the presidential election. And now the heads of the military and intelligence service are reportedly contemplating suing a former aide to Mr. Odinga for defamation. Increasingly, the military is being dragged down to the level of the marionette-esque GSU and Police, perennial hatchet men for whoever occupies State House.

This cannot end well. 

Coup proofing is hard. And the thing with coups is that once the genie is out of the box you can’t take it back. Coups just breed more coups.

This is why the generals must be left fat and happy and in the barracks, or busy keeping the peace (and hopefully not facilitating charcoal exports) in Somalia’s Jubaland State. Do your ethnic balancing and all, but by all means KEEP THEM OUT OF POLITICS (I am glad the current Defense Minister has no political constituency).

The last thing Kenya needs is a Zimbabwe situation in which there is open bad blood between the military and the opposition. 

Plus Kenya, based on its per capita income, ethnic politics, and minimal experience with genuine democratic government, is still not beyond the coup trap to be able to safely play politics with the military. If you doubt me, go find out the last time Brazil, Thailand and Turkey had generals in charge. 

southern adventurism?

Charles Onyango-Obbo, in Africa Review, has a piece documenting the cases of infidelity in Southern Africa involving the wives of heads of state. From Swaziland to South Africa to Zambia heads of state have had to manage spouses with “restless skirts.” Mr. Onyango-Obbo argues that part of the reason is that “Southern Africa as a region tends to have a more liberal take on sexual matters” adding that

“It is a mining region, and for over two generations men have left their families behind to go and work in the mines in a neighbouring. Some never returned, others did infrequently – often with second wives they had married. Just like lonely miners sought out newscompanionships in the new areas they worked and lived in, the wives they left at home eventually also filled the void left by their long-absent husbands.”

Although I don’t quite agree with Onyango-Obbo’s assertion that Southern Africans are more liberal when it comes to sexual matters, I do think that labor migration necessitated by the mining sector in the sub-region has had a profound impact not only on the institution of marriage but also on health outcomes. As a result the sub-region has the highest HIV infection rates in the world. I must also add that governments in the region have realized this and are trying to deal with the problem. Botswana, for instance, has an elaborate and fairly well run programme of providing HIV positive individuals with ARVs. South Africa, emerging from years of denial under Mbeki, is also trying to catch up.