The Queen’s death sparked controversy over Africa’s colonial past



From Kenya and Nigeria to South Africa and Uganda, Queen Elizabeth’s death has been greeted with an outpouring of official condolences, mourning and memories of her frequent visits to Africa during her seven decades on the throne.

But the death of the British monarch also revived a sensitive debate about Africa’s colonial past.

Her death came at a time when European countries are under pressure to appreciate their colonial history, atone for past crimes and return stolen African artifacts held for years in museums from London and Paris.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta were among those who expressed their condolences for the loss of an “icon”.

But many Africans meditated more on the tragedies of the colonial era, including events in the first decade of its rule.

Kenya gained independence from Britain in 1963, after an eight-year insurgency that left at least 10,000 people dead.

Britain agreed in 2013 to compensate more than 5,000 Kenyans who were abused during the Mau Mau revolution in a deal worth about 20 million pounds ($23 million).

“The Queen leaves a mixed legacy of brutal repression of Kenyans in their country and mutually beneficial relations,” the Daily Nation, Kenya’s largest newspaper, wrote in its weekend editorial.

Elizabeth was visiting Kenya in 1952 when her father died and she became queen.

“What followed was a bloody chapter in Kenya’s history, with atrocities committed against a people whose only sin was to demand independence.”

“While relations with Britain have been beneficial, those atrocities are hard to forget.”

– Treasures of the Biafra War –

As part of recent restorations of the past, Nigeria and neighboring Benin have seen the return of the first thousands of artifacts looted during the colonial era from Britain and France.

Nigeria’s so-called Benin Bronze – metal plates and sculptures from the 16th to 18th centuries – were looted from the palace of the ancient kingdom of Benin and ended up in museums across the United States and Europe.

Buhari of Nigeria said the country’s history “would never be complete without a chapter on Queen Elizabeth II”.

While some praised her role which led to Nigeria’s independence, others pointed out that she was the head of state when Britain supported the Nigerian army during the country’s civil war.

More than a million people died between 1967 and 1970, mostly from starvation and disease during the conflict after Igbo officers declared independence in the southeast of the country.

Nigerian-born professor Ojo Anya said, referring on Twitter to the Biafra War that sparked a fierce debate on social media.

Similar mixed reactions were expressed in South Africa, where President Cyril Ramaphosa called her an “extraordinary” figure.

But the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters movement or the EFF movement was more dismissive, recalling decades of apartheid in which Britain, the former colonizer, was often passive.

“We do not grieve 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 in a statement.

– Ugandan legacy –

In Uganda, some went even further, recalling Bunyoro ruler Omukama Kabalega, who resisted British rule in the late 1890s.

He was deposed and exiled to the Seychelles and then the kingdom was absorbed into the British Empire.

“To the extent that the Queen was able to hold the former British colonies together, she did not adequately address the grievances of some states including Uganda,” said Charles Romushana, a former director of intelligence and now a political analyst.

Last month, the Uganda Tourism Association called for a committee to lead the return of Ugandan artifacts from British and other foreign museums, including about 300 from Bunyoro, according to Parliament.

Charles Onyango-Obo, a writer and critic of the Ugandan government, said on Twitter that many long-serving African leaders have used Queen Elizabeth’s 70-year reign to justify their decades in power.

“Now that she is dead, they strive to learn how to make their case persuasive in the past tense.”

Mukuma Wa Ngogi, the son of world-renowned Kenyan writer Ngogi Wa Tiongo and himself a novelist and associate professor of English at Cornell University, has also questioned the Queen’s legacy in Africa.

He wrote on Twitter: “If the Queen had apologized for slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism and urged the Crown to make reparations for the millions of lives killed in their name/name, I would probably have done the humane thing and feel bad.”

“As a Kenyan, I feel nothing. This theater is ridiculous.”

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