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In what was King Charles’ first state visit to a Commonwealth country since the start of his reign, the monarch addressed what he described as the “wrongdoings” of Britain’s colonial era and recognised the “abhorrent and unjustifiable acts of violence committed against Kenyans” during their independence struggle.
At a state banquet in Nairobi he stopped short of issuing a formal apology, as that would have needed government approval, but he did speak of his own personal “sorrow and regret” to the Kenyan President William Ruto and 350 guests, saying in no uncertain terms that there was “no excuse” that could be given.
In response, Kenya’s Head of State praised the King’s courage for addressing such “uncomfortable truths”, although others will have been left disappointed, such as David Ngasura of the Kenyan Talai clan who has repeatedly requested reparations, as well as an official apology from the Royal Family for many years.
Closer than ever to an apology
King Charles III has spoken out before on the wrongs committed under colonialism, particularly in Rwanda last year and here he went closer to an actual apology than ever before. He told his audience “It matters greatly to me that I should deepen my own understanding of these wrongs, and that I meet some of those whose lives and communities were so grievously affected.”
A decade ago the UK government voiced its “regrets that these abuses took place” and announced payments of almost £20m to more than 5,000 people, in what it called a “process of reconciliation”.
Denied by the PM
Unfortunately for King Charles, the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak refused to submit to pressures placed on him to agree to the delivery of an apology. It is thought the reason concerned how it could be interpreted and that some would see it as an admission of liability and could open the floodgates to a host of legal claims, coldly ignoring the counter argument that it could actually help bring healing and closure.
Openness and honesty
The speech made it clear that he fully acknowledged that the period that he was speaking of was the “most painful times” in the two countries “long and complex relationship”. He did say that he firmly believed that the friendship between Britain and Kenya could be strengthened by “addressing our history with honesty and openness”.
President speaks of much still needing to be done
As Kenya marks its 60th anniversary of independence, the Kenyan head of state told the King that colonial rule had been “brutal and atrocious to African people” and that “much remains to be done in order to achieve full reparations.”
In particular in Kenya there are memories of the suppression of the Mau Mau uprising, in which thousands were killed and tortured in the 1950’s, before independence came their way.
During his visit, the King visited Mashuja museum, which is dedicated to Kenya’s history and its battle for independence. He and Camilla paid tribute to Mau Mau fighters and others who took part in the long struggle, and paused at statues of two freedom fighters at the Museum. There he also unveiled a plaque and laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.
Visit to a “shrine”
The Royal couple also viewed the Mugomo tree at Nairobi’s Uhuru Gardens, which was planted to mark the moment that Kenyan independence was declared by taking down the Union Flag 60 years ago next month.
It was explained to them that the tree is considered a shrine and a “memory” of the country’s turbulent history and they were warned that no one must take cuttings from it, and those who did were struck by lightning and died. Needless to say, they left it is the same condition they found it.
Queen Elizabeth II remembered
Charles spoke of building an ever-closer bond between the two countries and reminded his attentive audience that not only was Kenya the location his son the Prince of Wales had chosen to propose to the now Princess of Wales, but also where his late mother, then Princess Elizabeth, discovered she had become Queen back in February 1952.
He also endeared himself to those listening intently, by using several phrases of Swahili, including his concluding note: “Umoja ninguvu”, translated as Unity is Strength, for which his pronunciation was described as “impeccable”.
Mick the Ram