June 24th, 2024

King Charles III visits a war cemetery in Kenya after voicing ‘deepest regret’ for colonial violence

By Evelyne Musambi And Emmanuel Igunza, The Associated Press on November 1, 2023.

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – King Charles III visited a war cemetery in Kenya on Wednesday, laying a wreath in honor of Kenyans who fought alongside the British in the two world wars, a day after the monarch expressed “greatest sorrow and the deepest regret” for the violence of the colonial era.

Charles, who with Queen Camilla arrived on Monday in what is his first state visit to a Commonwealth country as monarch, cited the “abhorrent and unjustifiable acts of violence” committed against Kenyans as they sought independence. However, he didn’t explicitly apologize for Britain’s actions in its former colony as many Kenyans wanted.

At the state banquet hosted by Kenyan President William Ruto on Tuesday, Charles said there “can be no excuse” for the “wrongdoings of the past.” He said that addressing them with honesty and openness could “continue to build an ever closer bond in the years ahead.”

After the wreath-laying, the king handed replacement medals to four war veterans who had lost theirs. Among the four was Cpl. Samwel Nthigai Mburia, who claims to be 117. The other three are privates John Kavai, Kefa Chagira and Ezekiel Nyanjom Anyange.

Mburia, who fought in Damascus, Cairo and Jerusalem, said he got rid of his medal long ago for fear of being associated with the British colonizers but was now happy to get a replacement from the king.

Kavai, 101, who fought in India and Burma in World War II, said his medals were a “joy and pride for him and his entire family,” reminding him of his service.

“I will not lose these ones until my death and my children will be custodians,” he added.

The cemetery has 59 graves and is next to Kariokor market, previously the site of Nairobi’s Carrier Corps Depot, the administrative center through which soldiers heading to the front passed through. Charles also met with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission members and communities living near the cemetery.

Kenya is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its independence this year. It has had a close but at times challenging relationship with Britain after the prolonged struggle against colonial rule, sometimes known as the Mau Mau Rebellion, in which thousands of Kenyans died.

Colonial authorities resorted to executions and detention without trial as they tried to put down the insurrection, and thousands of Kenyans said they were beaten and sexually assaulted by agents of the administration.

On the roads leading to the war cemetery, at a walking distance from the central business district, authorities deployed heavy security including army, an anti-terror police unit, elite units and regular police. Traders and passersby were allowed to use only one side of the road.

The king later visited the United Nations office in Nairobi to learn more about the work of U.N. environment and habitat programs in Kenya. “As a result of your efforts, millions of the most vulnerable people in the world have a greater measure of security, safety and support,” he told staff.

Charles met with environmental activist Wanjira Mathai, the daughter of late Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai, to emphasize his commitment to environmental protection and planted an Elgon Teak tree at Nairobi’s Karura forest with 10-year-old environmental campaigner Karen Kimani.

Camilla on Wednesday visited a donkey sanctuary, wearing a dress with embroidered giraffe panels.

The royal couple later visited the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage at the Nairobi National Park, and the queen bottle-fed a baby elephant.

The royal family has long ties to Africa. In 1947, the future Queen Elizabeth II pledged lifelong service to Britain and the Commonwealth during a speech from South Africa on her 21st birthday. Five years later, she and her husband Prince Philip were visiting Aberdare National Park in Kenya when they learned that her father had died and she had become queen.

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