King Charles III is set to embark on a significant four-day trip to Kenya, marking his first visit as monarch to a Commonwealth nation. During this visit, any remarks made by the king regarding Britain’s colonial past will be subject to close scrutiny.
The Buckingham Palace has revealed that Charles intends to address the “more painful aspects” of the UK’s historical relationship with Kenya, particularly focusing on the period of British rule that ended in 1963. This includes the challenging era of the “Emergency” from 1952 to 1960, when the colonial authorities declared a state of emergency in response to the Mau Mau guerrilla campaign against European settlers.
The palace stated that His Majesty will devote time during his visit to gaining a deeper understanding of the injustices endured by the people of Kenya during this period. As a result, the royal visit is expected to elicit mixed emotions, primarily among the Kenyan Kikuyu community, which suffered approximately 10,000 casualties during the suppression of the uprising.
The significance of choosing Kenya as his first Commonwealth destination since ascending to the throne in September holds a special place for the royal family. In 1952, Charles’s late mother, Queen Elizabeth II, received news of her father King George VI’s death while in Kenya, marking the beginning of her remarkable 70-year reign.
On Tuesday, Charles and his wife, Queen Camilla, will be warmly received by Kenyan President William Ruto in Nairobi. The capital visit will feature meetings with entrepreneurs, young Kenyans, and a state banquet. Additionally, they will visit a newly established museum highlighting the nation’s history and pay respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Uhuru Gardens, where Kenya declared its independence in December 1963.
Following their time in Nairobi, the royal couple will travel to the coastal city of Mombasa, where they will explore a nature reserve and engage with representatives from diverse religious backgrounds.
This visit coincides with Kenya’s upcoming celebration of 60 years of independence from Britain in December. The Commonwealth, a group of 56 countries, primarily former British colonies including Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, still acknowledges the UK monarch as its head of state. However, some member nations, such as Jamaica and Belize, are increasingly advocating for republic status, while Barbados has already removed the UK monarch as its head of state in 2021.
The British newspaper, Daily Mail, has referred to Kenya as “the first stop” on Charles’s “mission to save the Commonwealth.” Poppy Cullen, an African history lecturer at the University of Cambridge, believes that the king’s visit presents an opportunity for Britain to demonstrate the advantages of being an independent republic within the Commonwealth, as Kenya has successfully achieved. It could serve as a potential model for other nations, according to Cullen.
While bilateral talks between King Charles III and President Ruto are expected to focus on various areas of shared interest, including climate action, biodiversity, sustainable urban development, youth, technology, innovation, and women empowerment, the issue of colonial history is likely to remain present.
Past grievances, such as the Mau Mau revolt, were addressed in 2013 when Britain agreed to compensate over 5,000 Kenyans who suffered abuse during that time. Prince William’s expression of “profound sorrow” for the slave trade during his visit to Jamaica last year, without a formal apology, underscores the importance of Charles’s words in Kenya. Cullen suggests that his remarks could set a precedent, with other countries potentially expecting similar acknowledgments.
Another source of tension lies in the presence of British troops in Kenya. In August, the Kenyan parliament initiated an inquiry into the activities of the British army, which maintains a base near Nanyuki, approximately 200 kilometers north of Nairobi.
This visit marks the fourth official trip to Kenya for King Charles, following previous visits in 1971, 1978, and 1987. Both the king and queen have also made private visits to the country.
King Charles III’s visit to Kenya holds significant importance as he addresses the colonial history between the UK and Kenya. The trip presents an opportunity for Britain to showcase the benefits of an independent republic within the Commonwealth, potentially serving as a model for other nations. While bilateral discussions will encompass various shared interests, the issue of colonial history and the presence of British troops in Kenya remain areas of potential tension.