By Kennedy Mbele
Here is what we know about King Charles III’s thoughts on Africa and the Commonwealth: King Charles expressed deep sorrow over slavery in a speech to Commonwealth leaders in Rwanda, acknowledging crimes of the slave trade and colonialism.
“While we strive together for peace, prosperity and democracy, I want to acknowledge that the roots of our contemporary association run deep into the most painful period of our history,” Charles told assembled Commonwealth leaders at the opening ceremony of a two-day summit in Kigali on June 24, 2022.
“I cannot describe the depths of my personal sorrow at the suffering of so many as I continue to deepen my own understanding of slavery’s enduring impact.”
Rooted in the British Empire, the 54-nation Commonwealth has not previously grappled publicly with the legacy of colonialism or slavery, but there have been increasing calls, especially from Caribbean member states, for it to do so. A dark past
“If we are to forge a common future that benefits all our citizens, we too must find new ways to acknowledge our past. Quite simply, this is a conversation whose time has come,” Charles continued.
He was at the summit representing his mother, Queen Elizabeth, who has been head of the Commonwealth since her reign began in 1952. The baton will pass to him, according to a decision by Commonwealth leaders made in 2018 that some Caribbean nations are now contesting. In his speech, Charles also acknowledged growing republican sentiment in some of the 15 Commonwealth nations that currently have the Queen as head of state.
They include the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaica, Belize, the Bahamas and Papua New Guinea.
“I want to say clearly, as I have said before, that each member’s constitutional arrangement, as republic or monarchy, is purely a matter for each member country to decide,” Charles said.
“The benefit of long life brings me the experience that arrangements such as these can change calmly and without rancour,” said Charles, who is 73.
“We should never forget the things which do not change, the close and trusted partnership between Commonwealth members.”
‘Britain’s role in slave trade was an atrocity’
Earlier on November 5, 2018, Charles had said Britain’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade was an appalling atrocity that has left an “indelible stain” on the world.
Then heir to the UK’s throne made the comments in a speech in Ghana, from where many Africans were shipped away to a life of slavery, most across the Atlantic, on ships from Britain and other nations.
Charles said the “profound injustice” of that legacy could never be forgotten, adding: “At Osu Castle on Saturday, it was especially important to me, as indeed it was on my first visit there 41 years ago, that I should acknowledge the most painful chapter of Ghana’s relations with the nations of Europe, including the United Kingdom. “The appalling atrocity of the slave trade, and the unimaginable suffering it caused, left an indelible stain on the history of our world.”
Charles had visited Christiansborg Castle in Osu, which originally operated as a Danish slave trade fort and from where it is estimated more than 1.5 million Africans were forced into slavery.
The castle later became the seat of the Ghanaian government after the country’s independence from Britain in 1957.
Britain had been involved in the transatlantic slave trade for more than 200 years by the time it abolished the trade in 1807, although the full abolition of slavery did not follow for another generation.
The British taxpayer paid out large sums in compensation to former slave owners, though none was handed to the people who had been enslaved. Many of them were even forced to work on for years without pay after slavery. “While Britain can be proud that it later led the way in the abolition of this shameful trade, we have a shared responsibility to ensure that the abject horror of slavery is never forgotten,” Charles told his audience in Ghana. In his speech in Accra, Charles, who was approved as successor to his 92-year-old mother, Queen Elizabeth, as head of the Commonwealth in early 2018, spoke of the role the loose alliance of 53 member states could play in tackling climate change, a key campaigning issue of the prince.
“In such an uncertain and changing world, none of us can know what kind of a planet our grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, will inhabit, but the Commonwealth … offers us a vital mechanism to help ensure that it is not poisoned and polluted and that its vitality is not compromised,” he said.