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Queen's death sparks mixed feelings in Africa

September 9, 2022

The death of Queen Elizabeth II has led to glowing tributes from leaders across Africa, but also criticism of the monarch and her country's colonial legacy on a continent where Britain has a long checkered history.

The head of Queen Elizabeth II wearing a crown in 2008
The death of Queen Elizabeth has sparked mixed reaction across AfricaImage: James Veysey/picture-alliance/ dpa

The death of Queen Elizabeth II has sparked mixed sentiments across Africa, large parts of which her country colonized for centuries. Several African statesmen have paid solemn tributes, while others took a more critical view of Britain's colonial actions and legacy.

Britain's longest-serving monarch made several trips to Africa during her 70-year reign, visiting some 20 countries across the continent.

The president of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, sent the "deepest condolences" of the bloc "to the royal family and the people of the United Kingdom and the countries of the Commonwealth" on the death of the queen.

In several African countries that are members of the commonwealth, official flags are flying at half-staff for seven days in honor of the late queen.

'A force for good'

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa also described her as "an extraordinary & world-renowned public figure who lived a remarkable life. Her life & legacy will be fondly remembered by many around the world. The Queen's commitment & dedication during her 70 years on the throne remains a noble & virtuous example to the world."

In Ghana, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo said the queen will be missed for "her inspiring presence, her calm, her steadiness, and, above all, her great love and belief in the higher purpose of the Commonwealth of Nations, and in its capacity to be a force for good in our world." Queen Elizabeth visited Ghana in 1961.

Ghana’s former president, John Agyekum Kufuor, told DW in Accra that the late queen was a good person.

“She was a great lady of global stature, and virtually the whole world has been thrown into mourning for her. Naturally when I heard [news of her death], I was saddened because to me she came across as a very good human being. A lady of virtue, very human and considerate," he said.

Londoners reflect on the death of Queen Elizabeth

Sanusi Lamido, the 14th emir of Kano, in Nigeria, told DW that the death of the queen is a great loss to the world. 

"We have all seen her as a great leader, as a world leader. The queen has been an icon, she has been ever present in the lives of most of us," Lamido said.

Many young Africans, who only knew the queen as the face of British monarchy, were equally admiring. Ghanaian entrepreneur Alima Bawa spent some personal moments with the queen when she received an award from her in 2019.

"The news of her passing is so devastating, her unmatched humility, dignity and value of service will continue to live in me and especially the lives of the young people, she inspired," Bawa told DW.

Dim view of the queen

But others in Africa have been less enthusiastic about mourning the British monarch, whose country has a checkered history in large parts of the continent. Britain's rule over African countries continued well into the 20th century, with Kenya only becoming independent in 1963.

Hardi Yakubu, a pan-African activist, said the late monarch's legacy cannot be told without the exploitation and imperialism that was perpetuated in Africa by the British.

"The British monarchy is not a glorious institution, the British monarchy that Queen Elizabeth led and represented is not something to be celebrated," he said.

For him, the queen and the monarchy have been a symbol of the exploitation of Africans, especially, and a brutal repression of people in other parts of the world as well.

"Queen Elizabeth had a very glorious chance and opportunities to right these wrongs by acknowledging the atrocities of the inglorious empire not only in Africa but also in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean….to apologize and to pay reparations for these, but she chose not to. That was her choice," said Yakubu.

He added that it's inconceivable to separate her from the empire that she served.

"You cannot separate the person from the institution," Yakubu stressed.

Such views are also held in other countries including South Africa, which endured years of apartheid.

The South African opposition political party, Economic Freedom Fighters, said in a statement that its members do not mourn the queen's death "because to us her death is a reminder of a very tragic period in this country and Africa's history."

The Economic Freedom Fighters faulted the queen for neither acknowledging the atrocities of her empire, or for apologizing for its wrongs in many parts of the world.

"If there is really life and justice after death, may Elizabeth and her ancestors get what they deserve," the statement concluded.

Anger over colonial-era atrocities

On social media, some Africans and those in the diaspora have expressed anger at the late monarch and the colonial crimes she presided over.

African academic Uja Anya, based in the US, wrote on Twitter: "If anyone expects me to express anything but disdain for the monarch who supervised a government that sponsored the genocide that massacred and displaced half my family and the consequences of which those alive today are still trying to overcome, you can keep wishing upon a star.”

Karen Attiah, a Ghanaian-Nigerian born columnist for The Washington Post, wrote: "Black and brown people around the world who were subject to horrendous cruelties and economic deprivation under British colonialism are allowed to have feelings about Queen Elizabeth. After all, they were her 'subjects' too."

Kenyan author Shailja Patel also recounted how brutal the British empire was under the queen's reign. She wrote that 15 months after "a young girl climbed into a tree one day a princess...and climbed down the next day a queen, the entire Aberdares region was declared off-limits for Africans. Orders were set in place to shoot Africans on sight."

"Some survivors of rape, castration, starvation, forced labour, and torture in Britain's colonial gulag in Kenya are still alive," wrote Patel. "They never got the apology they asked for."

Looking ahead

When asked by DW what he made of the criticism of the late queen, Ghana’s former leader Kufuor said he wasn’t going to "criticize people for what they think. I am telling you of what I think. The queen, I am not going to visit her with the sins of her fathers from ancient times."

He said the world has progressed beyond the atrocities of the past and what is needed now is a spirit of "interdependence, centering humanity above all as the reason why there should be anything."

With the death of the queen, her eldest son Charles III, the former Prince of Wales, is now leading the country in mourning as the new king. He also assumes the role as head of state for 14 Commonwealth realms. 

"I would expect him to be mindful of the implications and challenges of the responsibilities that have been thrust on him as king. He should have a good example of his mother," Kufuor said of the new monarch.

Edited by: Sonia Phalnikar