Kenya's Dark Colonial Past Confronts Britain's King Charles III

Kenya’s Dark Colonial Past Confronts Britain’s King Charles III

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King Charles III’s forthcoming state visit to Kenya, scheduled for October 31st to November 3rd, is laden with symbolism, as revealed by Buckingham Palace. This visit will mark Charles’ first to a Commonwealth nation since ascending to the throne last year, highlighting his dedication to an organization that has been central to Britain’s global influence and standing since World War II.

Upon his arrival in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, Charles will be warmly received by Kenyan President William Ruto. His itinerary includes a visit to Nairobi National Park and a meeting with environmental activist Wanjira Mathai, the daughter of the late Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai. This underscores the king’s commitment to environmental preservation.

Charles also intends to acknowledge the “painful aspects” of the shared history between Britain and Kenya, as Kenya marks the 60th anniversary of its independence from the United Kingdom this year. Despite the extended struggle against colonial rule, exemplified by the Mau Mau Rebellion, in which thousands of Kenyans lost their lives, the two nations have maintained a strong relationship since gaining independence.

The Mau Mau Rebellion began in the early 1950s when groups of armed Kenyan individuals launched attacks against British officials and white farmers who occupied fertile lands. It is estimated that 90,000 Kenyans were executed, tortured, or maimed during the United Kingdom’s counterinsurgency campaign.

In 2013, the UK government expressed its regret for the “torture and other forms of ill-treatment” during the colonial administration from 1952-1960, offering compensation of £19.9 million for human rights abuses.

The UK royal family has a long history with Africa. In 1947, the future queen pledged lifelong service to Britain and the Commonwealth in a speech from South Africa on her 21st birthday. Five years later, Elizabeth and her late husband Prince Philip were visiting Aberdare National Park in Kenya when they received the news of her father’s death and her ascension to the throne.

Prince Charles previously visited Kenya in 1971 and attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda in 2022. The Commonwealth, comprising 56 independent nations, most with historical ties to the United Kingdom and its former empire, witnessed Charles becoming its symbolic head upon the queen’s passing last year, although the role is not hereditary.

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