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Diplomacy

What you need to know about eSwatini, the Taiwanese ally coming under increasing pressure from China

It is one of Africa’s smallest countries and has been ruled by its king and queen since 1986, making it the continent’s last absolute monarchy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2018, 10:46pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2018, 10:48pm

Taiwan’s last diplomatic ally in Africa, the Kingdom of eSwatini, said on Wednesday it had no intention of switching ties to China, after a Chinese diplomat said he expected it to ditch Taipei soon amid a bitter diplomatic dispute.

Taiwan, which China claims as a wayward province with no right to state-to-state relations, now has formal ties with only 17 countries, almost all small, less developed nations in Central America and the Pacific, like Belize and Nauru.

Ahead of a summit next month between China and African leaders in Beijing, China has been upping the pressure on eSwatini, formerly known as Swaziland.

The landlocked country of just over 1 million people is bordered by Mozambique and South Africa. It is one of Africa’s smallest countries and has been ruled by its king and queen, Mswati III and Ntfombi Tfwala, since 1986, making it the continent’s last absolute monarchy. Mswati currently has 15 wives – his predecessor had 125.

Several other former British colonies also changed their names after gaining independence to distance themselves from the past. The Gold Coast became Ghana; northern and southern Rhodesia became Zambia and Zimbabwe. Basutoland became Lesotho. The decision to rename Swaziland as eSwatini, some 50 years after independence, was made with similar rationale in mind.

The country faces major health issues, particularly HIV/Aids and tuberculosis. An estimated 26 per cent of the adult population is infected with HIV – the highest rate of any country in the world. However, in July, eSwatini held its first gay pride rally, even though male homosexuality is outlawed.