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'Reminder of a tragic period': Africa reacts to Queen Elizabeth’s death

September 17, 2022
topics: Colonialism
by: Cyril Zenda
located in: Zimbabwe, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, United Kingdom
tags: Africa, British Empire, colonialism, Queen Elizabeth II, Zimbabwe

While most African leaders joined the rest of the world in paying homage to the late Queen Elizabeth II, many prominent figures seek to remind the world of the dreadful atrocities the British monarchy, which the late queen symbolised, committed on the African continent.

In 1890, British colonial settlers armed with a British Royal Charter marched from South Africa to invade a territory now known as Zimbabwe (previously referred to as Southern Rhodesia and later on simply Rhodesia), and forcibly took away all productive land from natives.

Some 90 years later, in 1979, when the settler regime sued for peace at talks held in London to bring a brutal 15-year year guerrilla war to an end, the British owned up for the gross injustice that they had committed and undertook to pay the outgoing settlers for the land that they were going to lose with the advent of Zimbabwe’s independence.

But 17 years later, a new Labour government in London reneged on the pledge, claiming that Britain had nothing to do with its colonial past. 

The late Robert Mugabe’s foot soldiers - veterans of the liberation war who had agreed to lay down arms based on the British promise delivered by then youthful Prince Charles - reacted by invading white-owned farms. This triggered a chaotic land reform programme from which the southern African country is yet to recover.

Britain and its traditional allies responded to the land seizures by imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe - the last British colony on the African continent - disregarding its role in the whole affair. In all this, Queen Elizabeth remained aloof despite the role that the British monarchy had played right from the get-go.

This was standard behaviour for the British monarchy throughout Africa and across the Global South.

Mixed Reactions To Queen’s Death

It was therefore not surprising that when news of the queen’s death on 8 September filtered through, the reaction from Anglophone Africa was mixed.

"My thoughts and the thoughts of all Ghanaians, at home and abroad, are with Queen Elizabeth II, the British Monarch and Head of the Commonwealth, the organization of which Ghana is a proud member, and her family in these difficult moments," tweeted Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo. "I wish her the best and God’s blessings."

Other African leaders and public figures immediately followed suit, issuing various messages in honour of the Queen’s memory. 

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari made a string of tweets registering Africa’s most populous nation’s "immense sadness" at her passing and praying that King Charles III’s reign "will witness continuing robust relations between our two nations."

"The story of modern Nigeria will never be complete without a chapter on Queen Elizabeth ll, a towering global personality and an outstanding leader," Buhari tweeted. "She dedicated her life to making her nation, the Commonwealth and the entire world a better place."

In Kenya, then-outgoing president Uhuru Kenyatta released a statement describing the queen as a "towering icon of selfless service to humanity and a key figurehead of not only the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Nations where Kenya is a distinguished member but the entire world."

And despite the continued frosty relationship between London and Harare, attested by the UK’s protracted sanctions on Zimbabwe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa also offered his "deepest condolences to the royal family, the people of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth as they mourn the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II."

'We Are Not Mourning'

But before long critics chimed in to slam both the British monarchy and the late-queen’s post-colonial legacy.

These critics from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and beyond the continent took the opportunity to excoriate the queen and everything that she stood for during her 70-year reign.

Leading the attack was South Africa’s Marxist opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, which issued a statement in which it said its followers have no reason to mourn Queen Elizabeth’s death. 

"We do not mourn the death of Elizabeth, because to us her death is a reminder of a very tragic period in this country and Africa’s history," the radical political party pointed out.

"During her 70-year reign as Queen, she never once acknowledged the atrocities that her family inflicted on native people that Britain invaded across the world. She willingly benefited from the wealth that was attained from the exploitation and murder of millions of people across the world."

"The British Royal family stands on the shoulders of millions of slaves who were shipped away from the continent to serve the interests of racist white capital accumulation," the party further stated. "If there is really life and justice after death, may Elizabeth and her ancestors get what they deserve."

'Fortune Made From Stealing'

Tafi Mhaka, a Zimbabwean writer and political commentator based in Johannesburg, highlighted the predatory character of the British monarchy. 

"I find it disgusting and embarrassing that Queen Elizabeth’s estimated $500m fortune was established on stealing foreign lands, destroying livelihoods, repressing Africans and selling slaves," Mhaka said. 

'Today, I have family members who remain impoverished because of the United Kingdom’s colonial exploits," Mhaka added. "Like many in Africa, the mineral and agricultural wealth emanating from our ancestral lands and poorly remunerated labour enriched the royal family and enabled the UK’s industrialisation, leaving us incredibly poor and disenfranchised.

"I find it abhorrent that the royal family is, for all intents and purposes, a thriving $28bn commercial empire."

'Sponsored Genocide'

In a tweet that went viral on social media, Nigerian-born linguist and university professor Uju Anya of Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania who had wished the dying queen "excruciating pain."

The professor then returned to condemn the-late queen's role in the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970). In the conflict, the British government provided arms and ammunition that the military dictatorship used to crush the Biafran rebellion. 

"If anyone expects me to express anything but disdain for the monarch who supervised a government that sponsored the genocide that massacred and displaced half my family and the consequences of which those alive today are still trying to overcome, you can keep wishing upon a star," Anya wrote.

No Public Acknowledgement Of Evil

When asked about the evident resentment towards the queen and the monarchy in former colonies, Dr. Laura Clancy, a Lecturer in Media at UK’s Lancaster University, said it was the result of her attitude towards those who suffered abuses by the British monarchy. 

"The Queen never publicly acknowledged that the monarchy benefitted from colonialism, or the injustices and violences of Empire," wrote to FairPlanet. "The monarchy has never publicly acknowledged the history of the institution and the trans-Atlantic slave trade, for example, Charles II chartering the Royal African Company."

She said that although Prince Charles spoke of the "darker and more difficult aspects" of the history of Empire while on a trip to Canada in May 2022, he fell short of issuing an apology. 

"More practical steps would have been a direct apology and acknowledgement of the monarchy’s role in this history, as well as some moves towards reparations.

"This could even include not using items that were taken during the Empire, for instance the Koh-i-Noor diamond, which is still in the Crown of the Queen Mother."

'She Flaunted Ill-Gotten Wealth'

Dr. Tyehimba Salandy, a sociologist, educator and alternative media journalist from the Caribbean twin island republic of Trinidad and Tobago, echoed Dr. Clancy's sentiments, arguing that the anger towards the late queen stems from the fact that in her lifetime she showed little interest in atoning for the numerous injustices perpetuated by British colonialists. 

"She openly flaunted her ill-gotten wealth and was involved in influencing laws to hide the extent of that wealth," Dr. Salandy wrote to FairPlanet. 

"While many Britons may feel saddened and emotional over the lost of their 'queen,' people should remember that the so-called 'royal' family has overseen a lot of crimes against humanity all across the world."

"There has been slavery, colonialism, theft of resources, invasions, human rights infringements, massacres, famines, stolen artefacts, racism and interventions that blocked people’s attempts to realise independence and self determination," Dr. Salandy added.

"This is not just in the past, but systems, structures and actions that continue to this present day. We in the Global South are still trying to repair the damage."

The bitterness towards the British monarchy has been exacerbated by the fact decades after Anglophone African nations have gained independence, many are still struggling to get their former coloniser to release some of the articles of sentimental value that were seized during the conquest of these territories. Such items include plundered artifacts, valuable jewelry and, in the case of Zimbabwe, the skulls of its anti-colonial fighters, among other things.

Apology, Reparations Due

Figures like Zimbabwe’s Mhaka insist that residents of former British colonies are owed an unreserved apology and reparations. Dr. Clancy, whose research explores the cultural politics of the British monarchy and considers the role of the monarchy in producing consent for global inequalities and class power, mostly endorses such demands.

"It should always be possible for those countries to seek redress," she said, but added that "they should also have the support of other countries around the world in demanding redress."

"I think that there needs to be more education more broadly in the UK about the history of colonialism and Empire," she said. "[A 2020] YouGov poll found that 32 percent of people in the UK are 'proud' of the history of Empire, and there [are] many inaccuracies in how [the history of the] Empire is taught.

"I think that with greater and more accurate knowledge of these violent histories, there might be a broader push for reparations from the British public as well."

Dr. Salandy agrees on the need for apology and compensation.

"If the so called Royal family wishes to show regret, they can apologise, return stolen land, return wealth, treasures and artefacts looted from across the world, pay monetary compensation and make key changes in global economic and political structures that exclude and disadvantage people from global south countries," he said.


Image by Annie Spratt.

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Author
Zimbabwe Nigeria South Africa Kenya Ghana United Kingdom
"She openly flaunted her ill-gotten wealth and was involved in influencing laws to hide the extent of that wealth."
© Print Collector
The British government provided arms and ammunition to the military dictatorship during the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970).
© Central Press
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