Upon taking the throne in 1952, Queen Elizabeth II inherited millions of subjects around the world, many of whom did not want her. Today, in the former colonies of the British Empire, his death arouses complicated feelings, including anger.
Beyond official condolences praising the Queen’s longevity and service, there is some bitterness about the past in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and elsewhere. Discussions turned to the legacies of colonialism, from slavery to corporal punishment in African schools to looted artefacts held in British institutions. For many, the Queen has come to represent all of this during her seven decades on the throne.
In Kenya, where decades ago a young Elizabeth learned of her father’s death and her huge new role as queen, a lawyer named Alice Mugo has shared a photograph of a fading document online from 1956. It was published four years after the Queen’s reign, and well into Britain’s brutal response to the Mau Mau rebellion against colonial rule.
“Circulation permit,” the document reads. While more than 100,000 Kenyans were herded into camps in grim conditions, others, like Mugo’s grandmother, were forced to seek British permission to move from place to place.
“Most of our grandparents were oppressed,” Mugo tweeted in the hours after the queen died on Thursday. “I can’t cry.”
But Kenya’s incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose father, Jomo Kenyatta, was imprisoned during the Queen’s reign before becoming the country’s first president in 1964, ignored past turmoil, like other leaders African states. “The most iconic figure of the 20th and 21st centuries,” Uhuru Kenyatta called her.
The anger came from ordinary people. Some asked for an apology for past abuses like slavery, others for something more tangible.
“This community of nations, this wealth belongs to England. This wealth is something never shared,” said Bert Samuels, a member of the National Reparations Council in Jamaica.
Elizabeth’s reign saw the hard-won independence of African countries from Ghana to Zimbabwe, as well as a string of Caribbean islands and nations along the edge of the Arabian Peninsula.
Some historians see her as a monarch who helped oversee the empire’s mostly peaceful transition to the Commonwealth, a voluntary association of 56 nations with historical and linguistic ties. But she was also the symbol of a nation that often trampled on the peoples it subjugated.
There were few signs of public grief or even concern for his death across the Middle East, where many still hold Britain responsible for colonial actions that drew much of the region’s borders and threw the bases of many of its modern conflicts. On Saturday, Gaza’s Hamas leaders called on King Charles III to “correct” British Mandate decisions that they said oppressed Palestinians.
In an ethnically divided Cyprus, many Greek Cypriots remembered the four-year guerrilla campaign in the late 1950s against colonial rule and the Queen’s perceived indifference to the fate of nine people whom the authorities British were executed by hanging.
Yiannis Spanos, president of the National Organization Association of Cypriot Fighters, said the Queen was “held by many as bearing responsibility” for the island’s tragedies.
Now, with his passing, new efforts are being made to address the colonial past or hide it.
India is renewing its efforts under Prime Minister Narendra Modi to remove colonial names and symbols. The country has evolved for a long time, surpassing even the British economy in size.
“I don’t think we have any room for kings and queens in today’s world because we are the biggest democratic country in the world,” said Dhiren Singh, a 57-year-old entrepreneur in New Delhi. .
There was a certain sympathy for the Elizabeth and the circumstances in which she was born and then plunged.
In Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, resident Max Kahindi recalled the Mau Mau rebellion “with great bitterness” and recalled how some elders were detained or killed. But he said the Queen was “a very young woman” then and he thinks someone else was probably running British affairs.
“We cannot blame the queen for all the suffering we had at that time,” Kahindi said.
Timothy Kalyegira, a political analyst in Uganda, said there is a lingering “spiritual connection” in some African countries, from the colonial experience to the Commonwealth. “It’s a moment of pain, a moment of longing,” he said.
The Queen’s dignified personality and age, as well as the centrality of the English language in world affairs, are powerful enough to temper some criticism, Kalyegira added: “She is seen more as the mother of the world.”
Mixed opinions were also found in the Caribbean, where some countries are removing the British monarch from their head of state.
“You have a conflicting conscience,” said Maziki Thame, senior lecturer in development studies at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, which the Prime Minister announced during this year’s visit by Prince William, who is now heir. of the throne, and of Kate that the island destined to become fully independent.
The younger generation of royals seem to have a greater sensitivity to the implications of colonialism, Thame said – during the visit William expressed his “deep sadness” for slavery.
Nadeen Spence, an activist, said Elizabeth’s appreciation among older Jamaicans is unsurprising since she was portrayed by the British as “that benevolent queen who has always watched over us”, but younger are not intimidated by the royal family.
“The only thing I noted about the Queen’s passing is that she died and never apologized for slavery,” Spence said. “She should have apologized.”
Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this report.
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This story was originally published September 11, 2022 2:45 a.m.