¹”If the Queen had apologized for slavery, colonialism and neocolonialism and urged the crown to offer reparation for the millions of lives taken in her/their names, then perhaps I would do the human thing and feel bad. As a Kenyan, I feel nothing. This theater is absurd.”
²“My uncle was deaf. He was asked by the British soldiers to stop. Of course he did not hear them. They shot him dead. My other uncle was in the Mau Mau. My grandmother hid bullets for him. Colonialism happened to real people. It is absolute madness to expect us to mourn the queen.” Mukoma Wa Ngugi
The above is a reaction from Mukoma Wa Ngugi on the passing away of the longest-serving British ruler Queen Elizabeth II. The first reaction came following her death and the second one came after his Twitter account was reported because he tweeted the first reaction. The queen’s death spurred a plethora of reactions from academics, clergy as well as lay persons vis-a-vis the British colonial legacy in Africa and her former colonies.
We all saw videos over social media platforms of the mourning of the queen’s death by some African communities and countries as some went an extra mile of organizing funeral processions with orchestras that paraded major streets. A popular Nigerian influencer on Twitter commented that he didn’t know the queen had so many relatives on WhatsApp. He made this statement because of the unending WhatsApp stories with varied pictures of the queen alongside various catchy captions. Beyond the fun in his words, is a deep message.
Critics and analysts have pondered whether that was necessary for a people with a colonial encounter that leaves very little to be admired. Queen Elizabeth II’s death was a catalyst that pushed a good number of people to search and present pictures and write-ups that enumerated the downsides of the British presence in Africa during the colonial era and how these excesses still linger on and influence our lives. This school of thought saw no need in mourning her as she did little or nothing to trim the tentacles of her overzealous administrators in the continent.
From the numerous reactions, one can’t help but ask if there is really a way of belonging to the Commonwealth of nations or holding onto the colonial past with Britain (especially for a Southern Cameroon that uses her colonial history to clamor for equity, the preservation of cultural heritage and identity) to celebrate the passing of the queen without seeming ridiculous or overzealous? The colonial heritage is something that most Africans are still struggling to deal with. What do we change? What do we keep? How do we deal with this or that situation? These are questions that have often come up.
By virtue of the colonial experience, it is not far-fetched to see the Commonwealth as yet another institution that basks on the past glories of colonialism. Colonial legacies cannot be completely severed from formerly colonized people. It is therefore incumbent to question and seek ways on how to redefine ties with the former colonial masters to prevent certain colonial legacies from being tools of denigration once more. This could be in the form of questioning our allegiance to the British throne and thinking twice before taking part in activities that do not directly have a connection with us.
Some years ago there was a similar worry with “The Queen’s Family”, the name given to the Department of English of the Higher Teacher Training College Yaounde student association. The name has undertones of an unhealthy allegiance to the colonial masters in an era of post-colonialism. When Prof. Babila Mutia suggested the concept could go through a little modification by adopting a local name that still ties with the initial concept, his proposal, “The Mafor(‘s) Family”, wasn’t given much thought. One had to wonder again if this was an attempt to foreground the fact that the colonial heritage and culture of English Cameroon is quite different from French Cameroon’s.
I recently watched a video of the Commonwealth Club of the University of Douala celebrating the passing of the queen and it brought back many questions and previous debates regarding the subject. As members of the Commonwealth and Commonwealth Clubs or students, researchers and teachers of Commonwealth Literature, what is expected from this allegiance is still somehow fuzzy even after so many years. For those who watched Monday Show on CRTV, you would probably remember an instance or two where guests from a Commonwealth Club were not able to clearly state their agenda.
One remembers the skepticism of Nkrumah before joining the Commonwealth. He must have been persuaded to join by the assurance that the body will function on the principles of equality and mutual acceptance and respect. According to the 14 points of the 1971 Singapore Declaration, all members are bound together by the principles of world peace, liberty, human rights, equality, and free trade. However, one still wonders if this is another face of neo-colonialism and if former British colonies especially those from Africa have not been bundled up in a bus for easy management just like was done to their presidents during the queen’s funeral.
Holistically, the British colonial encounters and heritage or its aftermath has had its upsides. The raison d’être of the presence of the Commonwealth and its effectiveness in our milieu might as well be cloudy but that shouldn’t hinder us from seeing its positive angle. Trade, access to higher education, cultural exchange, development assistance and investment opportunities are some of the key benefits. It has been described as some kind of an extension of the AU and credited for its contribution in addressing African problems or between member states.
Cultural heritage and identity are key elements within the realms of the Commonwealth. Indigenous values are being given the pride of place in the local and international scene thanks to the continuous sensitization and the relentless conscientization from some of the Commonwealth’s cultural programs. This is a great way to consolidate the multi-racial and multi-cultural composition of the institution.
Thus, to enjoy our common wealth as the Commonwealth, all members have to remember that it is a gathering based on equality. That way, priorities will not be misplaced and an enabling environment will be created for a win-win situation.