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What the Queen’s death means for former British colonies

What the Queen’s death means for former British colonies

What the Queen’s death means for former British colonies
October 20
12:00 2022

Queen Elizabeth II’s passing last month dealt a blow to Britain’s struggle to maintain its influence on former colonies. As calls for replacing the monarchy with a true head of state are rising within the British commonwealth, the death of its longest reigning monarch has exposed a weakness in British foreign relations. Citizens of its former colonies are demanding compensation for colonial atrocities. 

Despite the Queen being 2021’s third most admired woman in the world, many struggle to see past centuries of colonial brutality. Prior to the Queen’s death, Carnegie Mellon linguistics professor Uju Anya, whose family survived a British-sponsored genocide, tweeted, “I heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating.”

Although backlash was severe, hundreds of students signed a petition in support of Anya, and Twitter users echoed her sentiment. While the world is mourning the Queen, victims of the British Empire do not have the privilege of seeing past the establishment Queen Elizabeth represents.

King Charles III inherited his mother’s throne but not the adoration and respect her fans worldwide had for her. His attempts at solving growing schism between British royalty and the rest of the Commonwealth have manifested in the form of royal tours and measly apologies. In a speech to Commonwealth leaders on June 24, then Prince Charles expressed his “personal sorrow” for the lasting impact of the slave trade that his predecessors facilitated. 

Personal sorrows from a fledgling king, who flaunts wealth accumulated from centuries of exploitation, are superficial. King Charles is not alone in his poor attempts to rectify a doomed relationship. This year, Prince William and Princess of Wales Kate Middleton tour of the Caribbean was disastrous for the monarchy.

Locals in Belize protested against the couple’s arrival to tour a cocoa farm, forcing the engagement to be canceled. Indigenous demonstrators in the area carried posters saying, “Prince William leave our land.” 

The year before, Barbados removed the Queen as head of state and six other Caribbean countries announced their intentions to follow suit. This would leave only eight nations left who recognize the British Monarch as head of state and 56 countries within the British Commonwealth. 

As King Charles settled in office, renewed vows of reparations for slavery and colonialism and repatriations of forcibly taken items increased. European countries have made arrangements to return artifacts to formerly occupied territories in the past decade. Last year, French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to return looted items back to the African nations of their origin. 

Germany is transferring unconditional ownership of 170 Benin Bronzes back to their origin country, Nigeria. British government has been much slower in returning artifacts — even private British entities have agreed to return their own Benin Bronzes. 

Since the Queen’s death, there have been calls for the return of the Koh-i-Noor diamond to India. The 109-carat diamond was under the possession of the ruler of the Kingdom of Punjab and was inherited by his 9-year-old son, Deep Singh. He was pressured to surrender the diamond as a gift to the British upon Punjab’s forcible annexation into British rule.

Colonial forces gifted the diamond to Queen Victoria, and succeeding queens inherited the diamond. After Queen Elizabeth’s death, Queen Camila became the diamond’s owner. As per tradition, the new queen will wear it during King Charles’s coronation.

In South Africa, the Queen’s death has sparked a demand for their own diamond, the Cullinan I diamond. At 500 carats, the diamond was carved out of the largest gem-quality diamond ever found.

It currently resides in the Tower of London, mounted on a scepter that belonged to the late Queen. Proponents of the diamond’s return say that colonial transactions are invalid and therefore considered theft.

A vast quantity of looted items reside in the British Museum and the likelihood of those items returning is slim. A significant obstacle in artifact repatriation is The British Museum Act of 1963, which only allows museums to remove artifacts under certain conditions. The item has to be a duplicate, modern or deemed by a board of trustees of no use to the British population. Few looted artifacts fit that description. 

Germany has tried to rectify the genocidal atrocities they committed in German-occupied Namibia by donating 1.05 billion euros to Namibian development projects. It is impossible for Britain to do the same and between slavery, several genocides and colonialism, Britain owes trillions more than it has.

Though complete reparations are not coming, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying. Returning artifacts and recognizing the terrible past British royalty has is a step closer to making a monarchy fit for the 21st century.

King Charles can express his sorrows all he wants, but even he must know complete redemption is hardly attainable at this point. More countries within the Commonwealth will continue to grow disappointed in their relationship with British royalty if there is no accountability. 

Featured Illustration by Erika Sevilla

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Hana Musa

Hana Musa

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