World leaders, including Kenya's President William Ruto, Monday had to park their official vehicles in West London and ride in a shared bus to Westminster Cathedral to attend the funeral service of Queen Elizabeth II.
According to Politico, the leaders, aside from US President Joe Biden, who arrived in his armoured 7-tonne Cadillac - the ‘Beast', had to share a bus from an undisclosed location 1.3km away from the cathedral.
France's Emmanuel Macron, Israel's Isaac Herzog, Canada's Justin Trudeau and Emperor Naruhito of Japan were reportedly also given an exemption. China's Xi Jinping and Russia's Vladimir Putin didn't show and it's unlikely they would have bussed to the burial.
A photo doing rounds on social media of President Ruto with his wife Rachel, Tanzania’s Samia Suluhu and several other dignitaries from Africa has elicited sharp reactions. A section of Kenyans have expressed displeasure with the supposed indignity of their communal travel and claims of subtle racism during Monday’s historic ceremony.
Racism is on top in #UK. US President Joe Biden was allowed to drive in for #QueenElizabethII’s funeral in a convoy, while other world leaders were lumped into a bus.#QueensFuneral #QueenElizabeth pic.twitter.com/DN8NHFBqU2
— Wali Khan (@WaliKhan_TK) September 19, 2022.
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The controversy, According to Politico, simmered over the weekend soon after the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) sent a travel protocol to overseas embassies asking their dignitaries to be as flexible as possible and, essentially, take the shared bus.
The request was reportedly met with diplomatic backlash from multiple world leaders who requested special permission to skip the proposed ‘park and ride’ scheme. Diplomats based in London were particularly not impressed with the two-tier system, and clamoured to ensure their own heads of state got the same treatment as Biden, added the US-based news outlet.
“I am trying to have ours exempted from the bus, but not having much luck so far,” a diplomat told Politico.
The outlet added that for some who put in requests for exemption, the possible identity of their fellow passengers upon the shared VIP coaches, old age and security reasons, as well as the unspoken dignity of the offices they hold, was of major concern.
“Our president is happy to go by bus if told so, but he’s over 80, so if there’s a way to avoid it, we will try,” another diplomat was quoted as saying.
Another added: “FCDO told us not to have many expectations, not to be too ambitious, and expect different problems. The logistical challenge is huge … They’re trying to convince us to take the buses, saying it’s much easier to manage everything.”
According to The Times, fears of gridlock on the roads around the Abbey, Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace necessitated the move to deploy buses.
Only two people allowed
The dignitaries, totalling over 2,000, mostly from across the Commonwealth of Nations, were instructed that their maximum allocation of seats was restricted to the head of state or their representative plus partner.
To control crowds, 36 kilometres of barriers were erected in central London alone, according to AP.
AP added that 5,949 military personnel have been deployed throughout the meticulously choreographed operation that began with the queen’s death on September 8 at her Balmoral Estate in the Scottish Highlands.
Queen Elizabeth II, UK's longest-serving monarch, died on September 8, at Balmoral, Scotland aged 96. She will be laid to rest in a private ceremony in King George VI Memorial Chapel at Windsor Castle.