In the Commonwealth, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee sparks protests and apathy

LONDON — After seven decades on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II is widely seen in Britain as a rock in turbulent times. But in Britain’s former colony, many see her as an anchor to the empire’s past, the damage of which still lingers.

So while Britain is celebrating the Queen’s 70th anniversary, some in the Commonwealth are using the opportunity to push for a formal break with the monarchy and the colonial past it represents.

“When I think of the Queen, I think of a lovely old lady,” said Jamaican scholar Rosalie Hamilton, who fought for her country to become a republic. “It’s not about her. It’s about her family’s wealth, built on the backs of our ancestors. We’re grappling with a very painful legacy of the past.”

The empire in which Elizabeth was born is long gone, but she still rules far beyond the shores of England. She is the head of state of 14 other countries, including Canada, Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Bahamas. Until recently it was 15 – Barbados cut ties with the monarchy in November, and several other Caribbean nations, including Jamaica, said they planned to follow suit.

Britain’s jubilee celebrations culminated in a four-day holiday weekend starting on Thursday aimed at acknowledging the diversity of Britain and the Commonwealth. A huge jubilee extravaganza will take place in central London on Sunday, with Caribbean Carnival performers and Bollywood dancers in attendance.

But Britain’s image as a welcoming and diverse society has been revealed, with hundreds, if not thousands, of Caribs who have lived legally in the UK for decades, deprived of housing, jobs or medical care – in some cases cases Deportation – because they don’t have the paperwork to prove their identity.

The UK government has apologised and agreed to pay compensation, but the Windrush scandal has sparked deep outrage in the UK and the Caribbean.

The Queen’s grandson Prince William and his wife Kate’s jubilee trip to Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas in March aimed at strengthening ties appeared to have had the opposite effect. Images of the couple crossing the barbed wire fence to shake hands with their children and riding in an open-top Land Rover at the parade sparked echoes of colonialism in many.

Cynthia Barrow-Giles, a professor of political science at the University of the West Indies, said the Britons “seem to be blind to the visceral response to the Royal visit in the Caribbean”.

Protesters in Jamaica have demanded that Britain pay reparations for slavery, with Prime Minister Andrew Holness politely telling William that the country is “moving on” in a sign of its plans to become a republic. Next month, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Brown told the Queen’s son Prince Edward that his country, too, would one day remove the Queen as head of state.

William acknowledged the power of feelings and said the future “is determined by the people”.

“We proudly support and respect your decisions about your future,” he said in the Bahamas. “Relationships grow. Friendships last.”

Princess Elizabeth became queen following the death of her father, King George VI, in Kenya in 1952. The East African country gained independence in 1963 after years of bitter struggle between liberation movements and colonial forces. In 2013, the British government apologized for the torture of thousands of Kenyans during the “Mau Mau” uprising in the 1950s and paid millions in an out-of-court settlement.

For many Kenyans, the memory of the empire remains raw.

Kenyan cartoonist, author and commentator Patrick Gathara said: “From the beginning, her rule was tainted by the brutality of the empire she led, and accompanied by its demise.”

“To this day, she has never publicly acknowledged, let alone apologised, the oppression, torture, dehumanisation and deprivation suffered by the people of colonial Kenya before and after her ascension to the throne.”

British officials want the country that became a republic to remain in the Commonwealth, the 54-nation group of mostly former British colonies whose ceremonial leader is the Queen.

The Queen’s strong personal commitment to the Commonwealth has played a major role in uniting a diverse group whose members range from the vast expanse of India to the tiny nation of Tuvalu. But the group, which advocates for democracy, good governance and human rights, faces an uncertain future.

Commonwealth heads of government prepare this month for a summit in Kigali, Rwanda, delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, with some questioning the group’s ability to survive once the Queen’s eldest son, Prince Charles, succeeds her.

“A lot of the more disturbing history of the British Empire and the Commonwealth awaits Queen Elizabeth II,” said royal historian Ed Owens. “So this is a legacy that she will struggle to pass on to the next generation.”

The crisis in the Commonwealth reflects the decline of Britain’s global influence.

Zimbabwe was suspended from joining the Commonwealth under its dictatorial late President Robert Mugabe and is now seeking readmission. But many in the capital Harare have expressed indifference to the Queen’s jubilee as Britain’s once-mighty influence is waning and countries such as China and Russia are more closely associated with the former British colony.

“She’s becoming irrelevant here,” said social activist Peter Nyapedwa. “We know (Chinese President) Xi Jinping (Jin Ping) or (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, not the Queen.”

Sue Onslow, director of the Commonwealth Institute at the University of London, said the Queen was the “invisible glue” that held the Commonwealth together.

But she said the group had proven very resilient and should not have been written off. The Commonwealth played a major role in galvanizing opposition to apartheid in the 1980s, and could do the same with climate change, which poses an existential threat to its low-lying island members.

“The Commonwealth has demonstrated a remarkable ability to transform itself and devise solutions in times of crisis, as if it had jumped into a phone booth and emerged under a different guise,” she said. “Whether it will do so now is an open question.”

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.

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