In Britain's former colonies, ghosts of the past haunt the Queen's mourning

In Britain’s former colonies, ghosts of the past haunt the Queen’s mourning

NAIROBI — When the children of Kenya’s most famous freedom fighter heard of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, they mourned England and the Queen’s family. The death of a parent is never easy, the Kimathi children know that. “It’s a lot for their country,” said Elizabeth Kimathi, 66. “We are sorry for them and for the royal family.”

But the Kimathis pondered a darker part of the queen’s legacy.

They were thinking of how shortly after Elizabeth Windsor came to the throne, the British waged a year-long war to crush the rebellion led in part by their father, Dedan Kimathi – a man then branded a terrorist and now considered a hero in Kenya. . They thought of how thousands of fighters were killed and over 100,000 civilians were forced into detention camps.

How British soldiers tortured their mother. How their father was finally hanged, despite repeated appeals to the British government. How many letters their mother wrote to the Queen, begging her to help find the burial place so she could give her husband a proper burial.

“She was a woman, a mother and a wife,” Evelyn Kimathi, 51, said of Queen Elizabeth. “She could have shown mercy to another woman and wife.”

Since the Queen’s death last week, many in the West have praised the woman who for 70 years served as a beacon of stability and duty, a constant guide during a time of sweeping change. But in all the former English colonies, some of which fought violent struggles to secure their independence under the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the reaction was decidedly more complicated.

As their leaders paid homage to the Queen – with the presidents of Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria among those who offered tributes and praised England’s current partnerships with their countries – residents of former colonies publicly recounted the devastation wrought by the empire. Online and in private, there have been heated discussions about the extent to which Queen Elizabeth, whose duties were largely ceremonial, bore responsibility, and how to balance respect for the dead with consideration for past wrongs. .

“What I think Westerners really need to try to assimilate and realize is that colonialism is part of Western history,” said Sipho Hlongwane, a Johannesburg-based writer. “It’s a thing of the past, in the West. But in our countries, colonialism is now.

Queen Elizabeth II and the end of the British imperial era

In South Africa, he noted, many apartheid-era practices were borrowed from the British. Today, poverty is largely disaggregated along racial lines. The British and their descendants still control the vast majority of the country’s lucrative mines.

“The choices she made, she could have made them differently,” Hlongwane said of Queen Elizabeth. “You can be born into that level of privilege and make different choices and then suffer the consequences. Are we seriously not allowed to report it?

The queen’s death has also intensified appeals from people in Africa and South Asia for the royal family to return the riches taken from their lands – including the Kohinoor Diamond and the Great Star of Africa, which were “gifted” by India and South Africa respectively. The story of the Great Star of Africa, which was mined in 1905 in a white-owned mine and then given to the royal family, is the story of many artifacts in the British Museum, Hlongwane said.

“It may have been done over tea and a handshake,” he said. “But no sane person would think it was a fair transaction.”

Shailja Patel, a Kenyan author and activist, said she knew that when Elizabeth died, the “myth-making machine” would immediately kick into action. As she watched the media coverage begin, Patel took to Twitter. In a widely shared threadshe noted that the legendary Treetops Hotel in Aberdare National Park – where Elizabeth, then just 25, learned she would become queen after her father’s sudden death – would become the site from which British soldiers shoot down freedom fighters like in a “shooting game”. .”

“What the British did in Kenya,” Patel said in an interview, “they’ve done it all over the world. empire.

In 2013, Britain apologized for the torture of Kenyan rebels and agreed to pay a settlement of around $20 million to living survivors, which amounted to around $4,000 per person.

Britain faces questions and uncertainty after Queen Elizabeth’s death

For Sadaf Khan, a 22-year-old Bangladeshi American whose grandparents grew up during British rule in Dhaka, the capital of modern Bangladesh, the queen’s death has been a source of family tension.

Khan said his grandparents – who suffered violence and had to search for food during partition, when British India was divided into India and Pakistan in 1947 – and his parents are “strangely sad of the Queen’s death. He attributed their feelings to the portrayal of the Queen in South Asia as “a beacon of prosperity”. (Bangladesh then seceded from Pakistan in 1971 to form an independent country.)

Khan said he responded by referring to the “horrors that the British Empire brought to South Asia”, including the white supremacy and colorism still evident in South Asian culture.

Anuj Chandra, an Indian-born doctor whose uncle disappeared during partition, described nostalgia for a “British sense of style and class”, combined with a growing recognition of the legacy of British colonialism in India – and Queen Elizabeth II’s role in enabling her retinue.

“She carried herself with incredible grace and dignity,” said Chandra, who now lives in Tennessee, “and at the same time, I think it’s time to question their role, as well as the history and what could be done about… the damage that colonialism has left in the third world.

Nigerian-born teacher Uju Anya sparked an uproar when she wished the Queen – who she declared “a thieving and genocidal empire” – “excruciating” pain as she died. Anya’s tweet was removed by Twitter for violating its policies and condemned by Carnegie Mellon University, where Anya works.

But Anya, whose ancestors were killed in Nigeria’s devastating civil war, insisted that she would not express “Anything but contempt for the monarch who oversaw a government that sponsored the genocide that massacred and displaced half my family.”

As he watched the criticism swell on Twitter, Nigerian journalist David Hundeyin said he was struck by how “the deep ignorance is about what the problems even are… about what the British monarchy and what it stands for”.

The country of Nigeria was formed when the British rulers decided to merge the very different North and South into one nation. They gave political power to the rulers of the North, and when civil war broke out in 1967, Britain supported the federal government, providing funds and arms. Historians estimate that over a million Igbo civilians in southeastern Nigeria died, many of them from starvation.

People whose families have been directly affected by such a tragedy should be able to express their frustration with the regime whose policies contributed to such a tragedy, Hundeyin said.

“I’m not sure anyone can say to you, ‘Oh, how dare you? You’re not showing decorum. This is not the right time,'” he said. the good moment? Who decides when is the right time? Who decides in the hierarchy of human life, whose life ranks above others?

Chason reported from Dakar and Venkataramanan from Washington.

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