On 8th September 2022, Queen Elizabeth II – Britain’s longest-serving monarch – died quietly at Balmoral Castle, aged 96. Condolences have poured in from every part of the world with flowers overwhelming Green Park and the outskirts of the royal residences. At a glance, this signifies the celebration of an impactful life – a life well lived and one which highlights extraordinary good in millions of hearts. But there has never been a thing as a ‘one-sided coin’ in our world, has there?
So while the United States President, Joe Biden, saw the Queen as “a steadying presence and a source of comfort and pride for generations of Britons… an age of unprecedented human advancement and the forward march of human dignity”, Professor Uju Anya of the Department of Modern Languages at the Carnegie Mellon University saw the Queen as “the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire”. While Narendra Modi of India said of the Queen that “she personified dignity and decency in public life”, Professor Sandy O’Sullivan imagined a woman who was an architect of the brutal effects of colonization and colonialism.
It is hardly in dispute that Africa suffered in many respects as a result of British imperialism. The question however borders on the extent of the Queen’s involvement and whether her sins, if they existed, should be forgiven. Many Africans believe that despite all the wrongs that were done in Africa, and the Queen’s official involvement in them, subsequent independence took the place of those wrongs for good and so at present, the Queen and by extension, Britain, could be safely absolved from those wrongs. Others feel that the Queen had little or nothing to do with the political maltreatment meted on Africa during her reign especially since she had no real executive powers. Yet, others opine that at death and irrespective of her good nature or otherwise, the spirit of the dead be not troubled by accusations and pointing of fingers.
However, like Prof. Sandy, most Africans cannot help but recall the atrocities of the British monarchy either directly or indirectly during the days of colonialism. At the Queen’s passing, Sandy tweeted that “for those saying we should be magnanimous about the passing of the Queen, a reminder that the Queen inserted herself into the lives of indigenous people here multiple times. She wasn’t a bystander to the effects of colonisation and colonialism, she was an architect of it.”
We have viewed the sins attributed to Queen Elizabeth II in two areas – colonial exploitation and pain. These areas touch each other and will be discussed together. VOA reports that “to some Africans, British colonial rule is synonymous with exploitation. They blame the Queen, the representative of British interests, for atrocities during that period.”
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) – South Africa declined to mourn the death of Queen Elizabeth because her death is rather a reminder of a very tragic period in South Africa in particular and Africa’s history in general. EFF see the African interaction with Britain under the leadership of the British Royal Family as one symbolising pain and suffering, death and dispossession, and dehumanization of African people.
The EFF highlights most importantly the brutality during the Mau Mau Rebellion. In its statement, “It was the British Royal Family that benefited from the brutal mutilation of people of Kenya whose valiant resistance to British colonialism invited vile responses from Britain. In Kenya, Britain built concentration camps and suppressed with such inhumane brutality the Mau Mau Rebellion, killing Dedan Kimathi on the 18th of February 1957, while Elizabeth was already Queen.”
Now the Mau Mau Rebellion between 1952 and 1960 entailed a revolt against colonialism in Kenya and while it hastened the attainment of independence, the wanton disregard for human life and human decency remains a nightmare never to be forgotten. The rebellion was caused by several factors, prominent among which were the loss of land to White settlers, poverty and lack of true political representation for Africans in Kenya at the time. It is estimated that over one thousand eight hundred (1,800) civilians and over twenty thousand (20,000) rebels of African descent died within the eight years while the revolt and attempt at its suppression lasted.
One of those directly hit by the rebellion, Gitu wa Kahengeri, now the Secretary General of the Mau Mau War Veterans Association recalled that “I personally will not forget that I was incarcerated for seven years. I cannot forget I was put together with my father. I cannot forget I left my children for seven years without food, without education. That, I will never forget.”
Britain also supported Nigeria during its Civil War – understandably but quite unfortunately because of its economic interest and the need to help put its former colony in one piece. The Civil War or Biafran War happened just a little over six years after Nigeria’s independence. The war lasted 30 months and saw what many have come to describe as genocide with Britain being the major supplier of arms to the Nigerian military. Frederick Forsyth, a former war correspondent and author said that “British covert interference had become huge. Weapons and ammunition poured in quietly… Much enlarged, with fresh weapons and secret advisory teams, the Nigerian Army inched across Biafra as the defenders tried to fight back with few bullets a day… What is truly shameful is that this was not done by savages but aided and assisted at every stage by Oxbridge-educated British mandarins.” The Red Cross estimated that up to one million children died during the Nigerian Civil War.
Kanika Batra Arora of TFI Global News believes that the Queen could have done something about these atrocities and the others not highlighted here but she didn’t and herein lies the justification for Africans declining to mourn the Queen. Seun Anikulapo Kuti believes that mourning the Queen who was at the centre of these atrocities, the millions of Africans who were murdered by the Queen and her family continue to wonder where the heart and soul of Africans are today! He says “You are mourning? Africans are mourning? Today, we should be partying. You all party every time (like) your life revolves around the party but you don’t know when to throw one!!”
This writer holds the opinion that while those who mourn the Queen reserve the unrestricted right to do so, those who for one reason or the other hold a different opinion should equally be respected for their opinions. If the Queen can be admired for being part of what makes Britain great, she can accept the corresponding criticism for the negative actions or inactions within the period of her reign. By the law of God and humanity, we ought to forgive sins but the forgiveness of sins is a private affair between an individual and his God. One who declines to forgive sins only has his supernatural to contend with.
Kator Tarkaa is a social commentator at Biografrica.