King takes a knee

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By Koert Lindijer and Robert Ocholla

Two European men of importance, the British king and the German president, recently embarked on a journey to East Africa where they confronted their colonial monsters. Simultaneously, on the opposite side of the continent, a battle against these ancient evil spirits unfolded. In Ghana, the demand for reparations concerning slavery and colonial exploitation grew louder during a conference held by the African Union and the Caribbean Community. “Africa deserves a formal apology from the European countries involved in the slave trade for the crimes committed against the soul, prestige and character of Africans worldwide”, a delegate said.

“Facing the empire’s dark past,” was the headline in the Kenyan Standard upon the arrival of King Charles III and Queen Camilla. Charles bit the proverbial British upper lip and maneuvered with utmost care. “Abhorrent and unjustifiable acts of violence took place against Kenyans… and there can be no excuse for that,” he said at a state banquet.

During his visit to neighboring Tanzania, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier humbly sought penance and earnestly requested “forgiveness.” He openly expressed deep remorse and a sense of “shame” for the colonial atrocities that were perpetrated in the region known as German East Africa at that time.

During the early years of the last century, the Maji Maji rebellion, an uprising against the Germans, resulted in the loss of between two hundred and three hundred thousand African lives. “It’s about a shared German/Tanzanian history,” Steinmacher said, promising to carry back home the narratives about this dark page in history, “so that more people in my country get to know them.”

King Charles made a commitment to pay a visit to the family members of those who fought against British colonialism, in order to gain a deeper comprehension of their suffering. The brutal suppression of the anti-colonial movement in Kenya resulted in the tragic loss of approximately twenty to thirty thousand lives.

The Nandi people’s representatives in Western Kenya are currently requesting the king to return the head of their ancestor, Koitaleel Samoei. This head holds great significance as it represents the betrayal by the British. In 1905, during peace negotiations with the Nandi chief, the British brutally massacred the entire delegation, decapitated the chief, and allegedly transported his head to London. During the royal visit, a small group of activists demanding reparations were dispersed by the police in Nairobi. Meanwhile, Camilla visited sanctuaries for orphaned elephants and donkeys, participated in a dance with the Maasai people, and Charles observed a naval exercise on the beach near Mombasa.

On the other side of the continent at the conference in Ghana, Monique Nsanzanaganwa from the African Union emphasized that providing compensation for the historical crimes committed against the continent will bring about a liberating effect on Africa and its Diaspora. “For centuries, Africa has faced various forms of discrimination”, she said at the reparation conference in Accra. “These injustices had a long-term impact, the consequences of which are still being felt.” However, The Star in Kenya argued in an editorial that demands for reparations are “unrealistic”: “What can King Charles still fix today?”

The occurrence of the white slave trade was more prevalent in West Africa than on the east coast. The existence of slave tunnels and caves along the Indian Ocean coastline however serves as a poignant reminder of the actions carried out by Arabs from 1500 to 1900, as they transported their slaves to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, and India. The aftereffects of this period still linger on, they have created a shadow of mistrust and cast their its influence over Africa and its interactions with the Arab world.

Former leaders in Africa are to blame as well. Ugandan President Museveni asked for forgiveness, according to the African Diaspora News channel: “Without the involvement of our African leaders, this evil trade could not have continued. I acknowledge on behalf of all African leaders (past and present) the role we played in this tragedy and ask for forgiveness.” In the EastAfrican, columnist Charles Onyango-Obbo reasoned about African involvement in the slave trade and the colonialism that resulted from it: “Perhaps the most meaningful reparations Steinmeier and Charles can pay is to put money into examining why we dropped the ball. Of course, we will have to fight to ensure that our modern chiefs, like their predecessors, don’t steal it.”

Social worker Robert Ocholla (with blue tie) was one of the Kenyans who did shake hands with the king:

To be in close proximity, shake hands, or engage in even a brief conversation with the king was no small feat. Those scheduled to interact with him had undergone extensive background checks, not only for security purposes but also to avoid any inadvertent missteps, particularly given the increasing calls for apologies regarding the atrocities committed by the British during the colonial era.

With royalty in town, it was an opportune time for locals to acquire new garments and ensure they were impeccably dressed to be in the presence of the leader of the Commonwealth.

When the king chose Kenya as his inaugural overseas destination after ascending to the throne some mistakenly anticipated his grand arrival in Africa to mirror the triumphal entries of King Alfred the Great after defeating the Vikings or the Persian King Xerxes leading his legions into Greece.

While His Majesty’s visit was indeed significant, his objective was not to conquer new territories as in bygone eras. Nonetheless, there were expectations that he might take the opportunity to express remorse for the transgressions committed by the throne during the days of colonial conquest. However, this expectation remained unfulfilled, and instead, he offered a somewhat subdued expression of “greatest sorrow and deepest regret” for the atrocities endured by Kenyans during the struggle for independence.

Many thousands lost their lives or suffered injuries, were detained and entire communities displaced. The representatives of the crown were also responsible for other deplorable acts, such as sexual violence, theft of livestock, valuable possessions, and sacred traditional artifacts.

While he did describe these injustices as “abhorrent and unjustifiable acts of violence,” he stopped short of assuming full responsibility. Nevertheless, the English monarch was accorded a regal welcome, complete with a literal red carpet being rolled out for him and the queen, even in the naturally dusty Nairobi National Park, where one would typically seek solace in nature. Moreover, he received a full guard of honor and a 21-gun salute during his visit to State House.

To be in close proximity, shake hands, or engage in even a brief conversation with the king was no small feat. Those scheduled to interact with him had undergone extensive background checks, not only for security purposes but also to avoid any inadvertent missteps, particularly given the increasing calls for apologies regarding the atrocities committed by the British during the colonial era.

Fortunately, the King visited several localities where projects directly or indirectly supported by the crown are located. One such project is the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Kariokor, the former home of the Carrier Corps. The cemetery had fallen into neglect, enabling land grabbers and speculators to scramble and encroach upon its sacred grounds.

This is Africa and Africa is our business, to ensure a smooth pathway for the esteemed King and Queen, an artificial turf was carefully laid along their designated route despite the cemetery having well manicured lawn. During the course of the procession the King stumbled at the edge of the turf. If it wasn’t for his seemingly good fitness, he would have taken a knee. In that position, often taken by subjects as a sign of reverence and submission to the King or Queen, it would have been an ideal opportunity for the royalty to apologize and even extend compensation to their former colony.

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