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Why African Countries Undergo Name changes

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So on Wednesday last week the last absolute monarch of Africa; king Mswati of Swaziland stated during a gathering in a stadium marking the nation’s 50th year of independence that he had changed the name of the country from Swaziland to eSwati meaning the land of the Swazis when translated from Swazi, joining other African Countries that have done so already.

It should be noted that this is not the first time eSwati is heard as according to the BBC he is said to have referred to the country he rules as eSwati in the years 2014 and 2017. The reason he gives is that Swaziland has so many times referred to as Switzerland by some foreigners and therefore wants the confusion to end.

Other African Countries that have undergone name changes

Zimbabwe that was made infamous because of its former power loving Robert Mugabe who was the country’s head for more than 3 decades was once named Southern Rhodesia after Cecil Rhodes since the year 1898 up to 1964 when the African nationalists managed to have it changed to Zimbabwe which is said to meaning house of stones when loosely translated from the Shona language which is among the country’s 16 national languages.

Next on our list is Burkina Faso which was renamed in the year 1984 by the then Charismatic leader Thomas Sankara from Upper Volta which was given by the French Colonialists. The latter name was given because of the Volta River located there. Burkina Faso comes from two languages in the country which mean land of the upright people. Sankara wanted a name that represented the ideals and cultures of his people.

The famously love pan Africanist; Kwame Nkrumah changed the name of Ghana in the year 1957 from Gold Coast after acquiring independence from the British Colonialists. It is thought that Ghana comes from Gana which referred to the ancient kings of the Ghana area.

Then in East Africa Tanzania was renamed from Tanganyika and Zanzibar Archipelago as well. While the former was the land between the great lakes region, the latter was a collective of small islands and the two were headed differently. So later the two combined to form The People’s Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in the year 1964 and went on to further change name in the year 1965 to Tanzania. Languages spoken in Tanzania include Swahili and Bemba to mention a few.

Next on this list comes Benin which was renamed from Dahomey; this name belonged to a once vast kingdom which spanned over what is today known as Benin, Togo and parts of Nigeria. The name change happened in the year 1975.

The famous Zaire or as it is now known; The Democratic Republic of Congo was once known as Leopoldville named by the Belgians, in the year 1960 it was renamed to the Congo because of the Congo river that flows therein. In the year 1971 the infamous Mobutu Sese Seko changed the country’s name to Zaire so as to shed all Western influence. It was renamed Congo after that leader was put out of power by the incumbent Laurent Kabila in the year 2007.

In the case of African countries changing names is majorly due to the fact that most had attained independence and therefore wanted to remove certain things that pointed to their colonial masters as a sign of nationalism. There are however things from the colonial masters that stuck till today for example, Religion, Dress code and Languages. The languages are significant with translation services available too for example; Africa Portuguese Translation, Africa French Translation to mention a few.

Other countries with similar names include;

  • Guinea and Guinea-Bissau
  • Czech Republic and Chechnya
  • Austria and Australia
  • Sweden and Switzerland
  • Slovakia and Slovenia
  • Uruguay and Paraguay

Since these African Countries managed to change their names for matters of nationalism, it is advisable that preserving African indigenous languages should be high on the agenda. Effective communication should not be a problem here because of the presence of professional translation services.

By Angela Kyolaba

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