A cloud of colonialism hangs over Queen Elizabeth’s legacy in Africa

Lagos, Nigeria

The death of Queen Elizabeth II has caused a great deal of reflection and reaction online. But it wasn’t all pain: some young Africans are sharing images and stories of their own elders, who endured a brutal period of British colonial history during the Queen’s long reign.

“I can’t cry,” wrote one on Twitter, post a picture of what he said was his grandmother’s “movement pass,” a colonial document that prevented free travel to Kenyans under British rule in the East African country.

Another he wrote that her grandmother “used to narrate to us how they were beaten and how their husbands took them away and left them to take care of their children,” during the colonial era. “That we never forget them.” They are our heroes,” he added.

Her refusal to mourn highlights the complexity of the legacy of the Queen, who despite widespread popularity was also seen as a symbol of oppression in parts of the world where the British Empire spread.

Queen Elizabeth II inspects men of the Queen's Own Nigeria's new regiment, Royal West African Frontier Force, at Kaduna Airport, Nigeria, during her Commonwealth tour on February 2, 1956.

Kenya, which had been under British rule since 1895, was made an official colony in 1920 and remained so until independence in 1963. Among the worst atrocities under British rule occurred during the Mau Mau uprising , which began in 1952, the year. Queen Elizabeth took the throne.

The then colonial administration carried out extreme acts of torture, including castration and sexual assault, in detention camps housing up to 150,000 Kenyans. A British court awarded £19.9 million to elderly Kenyans who sought compensation in 2011, which will be shared among more than 5,000 claimants.

The UK’s foreign secretary at the time, William Hague, said: “The British government recognizes that Kenyans were subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration. The British government sincerely regrets that these abuses have taken place and that they have obstructed Kenya’s progress towards independence.”

The Queen’s memory of Africa cannot be separated from that colonial past, Kennesaw State University communications professor Farooq Kperogi told CNN.

“The Queen’s legacy began in colonialism and is still wrapped up in it. It used to be said that the sun never set on the British Empire. No amount of compassion or sympathy that her death has generated can erase that.” , he told CNN.

Queen Elizabeth II on her way to the Kumasi Durbah with Kwame Nkrumah, President of Ghana, during her tour of Ghana, November 1961.

While many African leaders have mourned his death, including Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who described his reign as “unique and wonderful”, other prominent voices in regional politics have not.

In South Africa, an opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), was unequivocal. “We do not mourn the death of Elizabeth, because for us her death is a reminder of a very tragic period in this country and the history of Africa,” the EFF said. he said in a statement.

“Our interaction with Britain has been one of pain, … death and dispossession, and dehumanization of the African people,” he added.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip greet a crowd of schoolchildren at a rally held at a racecourse in Ibadan, Nigeria, on February 15, 1956.

Others recalled Britain’s role in the Nigerian civil war, where weapons were secretly supplied to the government for use against Biafrans who wanted to form a breakaway republic. Between 1 and 3 million people died in that war. British musician John Lennon returned his MBE, an honorary title, to the Queen in protest at Britain’s role in the war.

Still, many on the continent remember the queen as a stabilizing force who brought about positive change during her reign.

Nigeria’s Ayodele Modupe Obayelu told CNN: “His reign saw the end of the British Empire and African countries… he became a Republic. He really doesn’t deserve an award or a standing ovation for that, but it was a step in the right direction.”

Nigerian magazine editor Dele Momodu met Queen Elizabeth on a 2003 state visit to Abuja, Nigeria.

And Ovation magazine editor Dele Momodu was full of praise, explaining that he met her in 2003 in Abuja while covering her visit to Nigeria. He added that he had fled Nigeria to the UK in 1995, during the regime of dictator Sani Abacha.

“I told him I was a refugee and now the editor of a magazine. He said “congratulations” to me and moved on to the other people on the line. I greet her He worked until the end and never tired of working for his country. He did his best for his country and this is a lesson in leadership,” he told CNN.

Momodu believes the Queen tried to “atone” for the brutality of the British Empire. “He came to Nigeria during our independence and some of the artefacts were returned under his reign. That is why the Commonwealth continues to prosper. I feel very sad that the world has lost a great human being.”

Adekunbi Rowland, also from Nigeria, said: “The queen’s death represents the end of an era. As a woman, I am intrigued by her story. This young woman had unprecedented access to the throne, and with with great grace and dignity he did everything in his power to protect the country and Commonwealth he loved, no matter what it took.”

The The queen once declared“I think I’ve seen more of Africa than almost anyone.”

She made her first official visit abroad to South Africa in 1947, as a princess and visited more than 120 countries during her reign, many of them on the continent.

Elizabeth, then a princess, and Prince Philip step off their plane in Nairobi, Kenya, on the first leg of their Commonwealth tour in 1952.

It was while visiting Kenya in 1952 that she learned she had become queen. Her father George died while she was there with Prince Philip and she immediately ascended the throne.

As colonialism later collapsed and gave way to independence and self-government in what had been British overseas territories, the former colonies became part of a group of Commonwealth nations with the queen at the helm and worked tirelessly to keep the group together over the years. .

She forged strong ties with African leaders, including Nelson Mandela, whom she visited twice in South Africa, and Kwame Nkrumah, with whom she was famously seen dancing during his visit to Ghana in 1961.

Queen Elizabeth II dances with President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana during her visit to Accra, Ghana in 1961.

However, there is now a growing clamor for independence and accountability for Britain’s past crimes such as slavery. In November 2021, Barbados removed the Queen as head of state, 55 years after declaring independence from Britain, and other Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, have indicated they intend to do the same.

Prince William and his wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, visited Jamaica in March, but faced protests and demands for reparations during the trip. A formal apology was also called for for the royal family’s links to slavery.

“During her 70 years on the throne, your grandmother has done nothing to repair and atone for the suffering of our ancestors that took place during her reign and/or throughout the period of British African trafficking, enslavement, indentured and colonization”. wrote members of a protest group, Advocates Network Jamaica.

In June, Prince Charles became the first UK royal to visit Rwanda, where he represented the Queen at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.

After the death of his mother, he now leads the Commonwealth, and will embark on a new relationship with its members, about a third of whom are in Africa.

Some wonder if she will be as effective at building the organization as her mother, and more importantly, how relevant she still is, given her Empire roots.

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