Before King Charles and Queen Camilla began their state visit to Kenya, royal officials said that the trip would be an opportunity to acknowledge the “painful aspects” of Britain’s colonial rule in the country. And today, the King made it clear that he does not intend to shy away from addressing this upfront as he began the trip with a keynote speech mentioning the “wrongdoings of the past.”
“The wrongdoings of the past are a cause of the greatest sorrow and the deepest regret,” the King said during a state banquet at the State House in Nairobi this evening. “There were abhorrent and unjustifiable acts of violence committed against Kenyans as they waged, as you said at the United Nations, a painful struggle for independence and sovereignty—and for that, there can be no excuse. In coming back to Kenya, 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.”
His words were undoubtedly sincere and heartfelt, but it is likely to be noted that they fall short of the apology being called for by many over the atrocities committed in the years before Kenya gained independence in 1963. A state of emergency was declared in the country from 1952 until 1960 during what was known as the Mau Mau uprising. This rebellion against colonial rule resulted in a crackdown in which thousands were killed and tortured. In 2013, the British government agreed to pay compensation totaling almost £20 million to victims.
Ahead of the royal arrival into Kenya today, organization Kenya Human Rights Commission released a statement and open letter calling on the King to issue an “unconditional and unequivocal public apology (as opposed to the very cautious, self-preserving and protective statements of regrets) for the brutal and inhuman treatment inflicted on Kenyan citizens during the entire colonial period (from 1895 to 1963) and thereafter, to date.” The group added, “Such an apology is a critical step in acknowledging the pain and suffering of Kenyans.”
The British High Commissioner to the country, however, told the Daily Telegraph newspaper that he believed most Kenyans were positive about the royal visit and focussed on the future. The King made much reference to the future in his speech this evening, describing Britain's relationship with Kenya today as “a modern partnership of equals, facing today’s challenges, and looking to the many opportunities that, together, we can seize.” After gaining independence, Kenya remained in the Commonwealth, and the King said that “it means a great deal to my wife and myself that, in our Coronation year, our first state visit to a Commonwealth country should bring us here to Kenya.”
Charles also mentioned his late mother in his speech, specifically the fact that she “arrived here in 1952 a Princess, but left as Queen.” Referring to the fact that Princess Elizabeth kept a diary during her visit to Kenya where she suddenly acceded to the throne, Charles said, “It is extremely moving to read her diary from that visit, in which she wrote that she did not want to miss a moment of Kenya’s extraordinary landscapes. I really cannot thank you enough for the support Kenya gave her through that difficult time.”
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