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  • Writer's pictureGunnar Garfors

The Two Countries Without Capitals

This island nation has no official capital.

South Africa is the only country in the world that has three capital cities, while 12 countries have two. But two countries have no official capital city. Can you guess which ones?

Let me first quickly go through the countries with two capitals. Few people disagree with the division of power in the four African countries of Benin, Ivory Coast, Swaziland and Western Sahara, the four Asian countries of Georgia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Yemen or the sole European and South American ones, Montenegro and Bolivia resepctively.

Conflict arises when we move to – surprise, surprise – the Middle East. And just to make matters worse, the two countries in questions even claim to have the same capital. I am, of course speaking of – in alphabetical order – Israel and Palestine. Both claim Jerusalem as their capital and many locals from both countries will get visibly upset, sometimes even turn agitated, furious or even violent if you suggest otherwise.

Jerusalem is not internationally recognized as the capital of either country, Ramallah functions as the capital for Palestine whereas Tel Aviv more or less does the job for Israel. Let me add that I find both cities surprisingly pleasant when it comes to restaurants, nightlife, coffee culture and hospitality. Unfortunately an official two-state solution that both countries can live with seems to be rather unlikely, or in a distant future.

Three capitals in one country South Africa still leads the pack with three capitals, the most famous of which is Pretoria, as the seat of the executive branch of government. Wonderful Cape Town is the legislative capital, whereas Bloemfontein – which I have unfortunately never visited – is the judicial one.

Why such a confusing setup? Well, it started with conflict when the union of South Africa was created, and ended with compromise. And perhaps not a bad one, as the solution corresponds well with the balance of powers, or checks and balances. Early leaders in the country agreed that the entire government in one place would give that location too much power and be prone to lobbying and corruption. Some irony then, that the president of South Africa is Jacob Zuma, a name practically synonym to corruption, mismanagement and incompetence.

Perhaps they should have gone for a no-capital solution instead. Two countries have.

No capital, no problem Nauru, which is the least-visited country in the world, is not surprisingly be one of them. Less than 10,000 people live on the island virtually on the Equator in the Pacific. Under 10 % of them live in Yaren, the de facto capital, or main district as the UN calls it.

Capitalless country number two may come as more of a shock. Come to think of it, it isn’t all that surprising after all. We are, after all, speaking of the country that defines neutrality more than any other, in part thanks to peace building operations around the world and a home to more international organization than any other. The country didn’t even join the UN until 2002 and is neither a member of the EU nor the European Economic Area.

It sounds like Britain post Brexit, but I am of course talking about Switzerland.

Come on, how about Bern? Your teacher might have told you to memorize that as the Swiss capital city. And some will say he or she was right, but not quite. Bern is for sure the seat of both the government and federal authorities and is referred to as the “federal city” but Swiss law doesn’t name an official (de jure) capital. Federal courts are also placed in other cities. The country is in other words technically capitalless, but Bern is still seen as the de facto capital. And that is good enough for most.

Perhaps except for quiz masters.

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