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‘That One I’ve Never Heard of’: Africans Unimpressed With Charles Celebrations

The distant familiarity and affection many in the Commonwealth had with the Queen does not extend to her son

On the streets of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, questions about the coronation are met with a blank stare. “That one, I’ve never heard of,” says David Ouma, a 36-year-old taxi driver.

There is no buzz or chatter about the coronation of Charles III among the market traders or in the pubs – although it’s likely to make the front page of newspapers at the weekend.

“I was thinking of gathering some friends to watch it, but I don’t know if there’ll be interest unless I package it as a catchup,” says Ken Gichinga, 38, an economist.

What public interest in the royals there was in the African Commonwealth countries, such as Kenya and Nigeria, has shifted over the past few years as citizens focus on pressing national concerns. But the anointing of the king is likely to reignite debate around Britain’s brutal colonial history, as happened across the Commonwealth after the death of the queen.

As he edges his way through rush-hour traffic in the suburb of Kilimani, Uber driver Joseph Njoroge, 45, is confused by the question. “I thought when his mum died he had already become king? I only know him as the heir but don’t know much about his personality.”

Anne Macharia, a 43-year-old pharmacist, is also vague on the subject as she lifts her groceries from a trolley into her car at the shopping mall. “I know the coronation is this Saturday. I will watch if time allows. He was prince for a long time so it would be nice to see him get crowned.”

But diehard history enthusiast Mark Baraza will be sitting in front of his TV on Saturday. The 30-year-old Kenyan programmer can’t wait to watch the ceremony. “It’s exciting,” he says. “They will be changing monarchs for the first time in more than 70 years. I didn’t witness the last one, so I will definitely be tuning in.”

Baraza, a royal watcher, is looking forward to seeing the pomp and pageantry of the day. He has eagerly followed previous royal events, including Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s wedding in 2018, and Prince William and Kate Middleton’s in 2011.

He watched Queen Elizabeth’s funeral last year. Her long reign, which began before most African countries gained independence, meant that many Africans learned about her in schools or or had seen her on TV. But the sense of “distant familiarity” with her, among a generation of the African Commonwealth – some Nigerians called her “Mama Charlie”, an affectionate term people on the continent use to refer to their mothers by using the name of a child – does not extend to King Charles.

And he may have to deal with a reckoning on this imperial history. When he acceded to the throne last year, the British historian David Olusoga predicted that King Charles would have to navigate “changing attitudes in … the Commonwealth – countries that are collectively home to 2.5 billion people, most of them not white and 60% of them under the age of 29.”

South Africans have already begun calling for the UK to return of the world’s largest diamond, the 530-carat Star of Africa, which will be set in a sceptre that will be held by the king on Saturday. For many in the Commonwealth, the diamond symbolises “repression, privileges and colonialism”, says the Conversation, a not-for-profit media website.

In his speech to the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Rwanda in June, the king suggested a change of attitude. To unlock the power of “our common future” he said, “we must also acknowledge the wrongs which have shaped our past. 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.

“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.”

Stanley Arwa, a university student from Kisumu, Kenya, believes interest in the royal family could be rejuvenated. “The younger royals have lived in the era of social media – they can evolve,” says the 23-year-old, who considers the country’s colonial past a distant memory.

But it’s not only Britain’s troubled history with much of the continent that has caused consternation. From online discussions among Africans, including in the diaspora, it appears the monarchy took a popularity dive over its treatment of Harry and Meghan, who wore a wedding veil that symbolically featured 53 flowers for the Commonwealth. The couple have made claims of racial bias and press intrusion, while their Netflix documentary made the news in Nigeria and Kenya.

The involvement of African artists in King Charles’s coronation celebrations may signal an awareness of the damage that needs repairing. A concert at Windsor Castle on Sunday features the Nigerian singer-songwriter Tiwa Savage and South African opera soprano Pretty Yende. Yende called her invitation to perform “historic” and “generational”, while Savage told the BBC she was eager to “[bring] Afrobeats to Windsor Castle for the first time”.

But when Savage announced her performance on Twitter, reactions were divided. Some congratulated her, happy to see African representation at the event, while others were critical, seeing her inclusion as tokenistic and her presence insensitive to Nigeria’s painful colonial past.

Baraza remains at least one voice of optimism about the new king. “He has a chance to rebrand the outlook on Britain,” he says.

Source: The Guardian