This week we celebrate the 91st Birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. It is an opportunity to celebrate everything which unites us, as the UK and as the UK and Kenya, the country where Princess Elizabeth became Queen 65 years ago.
The United Kingdom is just that, united, but our unity has been hard-won. Our history is one of different communities coming together over thousands of years to make what we now recognise as modern Britain.
From the Celts, the Picts and the Romans, to the Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans, all from mainland Europe, evidence of our history is everywhere in the UK, in our architecture, our language, even our food.
We may now be leaving the institutions of the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe – and Europe remains integral to our history and our identity. My own family fled the persecution of Protestants in France in the 17th century, making a new home across the channel in the United Kingdom.
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A melting pot of cultures
More recently, people have come to Britain from all over the world, and that global influence is a defining feature of our society and our culture; from the Caribbean infused Notting Hill Carnival, to the English city of Leicester’s huge Diwali celebrations.
The United Kingdom is a global country, open to the world and strengthened by our global connections. We are also a country of local communities. Our history has created deep, local identities. Every British person has many – Scottish, Welsh, English or Northern Irish; Northerner or Southerner; Scouser, Geordie or Cockney; Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Jew.
Those identities go alongside deeply entrenched rivalries. When Scotland host England at rugby, the home crowd sing of heroic victories against the villainous English. When Yorkshire meet Lancashire at cricket, they re-enact the rivalries of the Wars of the Roses half a millennium ago. City versus United, Rangers versus Celtic - these are matches about identity, not just about football.
So our unity comes from somewhere different, not from place or tribe, but from our values and shared commitment to one another. Those values of equality, freedom, democracy, human rights, social justice and the rule of law are the backbone of our society. We must continually re-commit ourselves to working for them, and for the idea that what unites us is greater than whatever may divide us.
Our diversity is our strength. This is true of the United Kingdom, and it is also true here in Kenya. Kenyans, like Brits, are a people of many identities and many histories, but you share the same commitment to one another and to a shared prosperous future. Kenya’s democracy, its vibrant and free media, its lively civil society and political debate are enormous strengths.
In the run up to this year’s election, the people of Kenya have an opportunity to strengthen that democracy yet further. As a friend of Kenya, the United Kingdom is deeply invested in supporting a strong, inclusive and credible electoral process.
Election years in both our countries mean new direction, new policies, and new impetus, regardless of whether a Government is new or returning. It is clear though, that continuing to strengthen the partnership between the UK and Kenya is of huge benefit to us both.
Kenya and the UK share a history, with moments of great joy and of deep pain. But it has created between us a fabric of connection which still binds us together today, and binds our futures together too. Our partnership is in strong shape – in trade, investment, tourism, development, security and defence, in the links between our peoples and in our common commitment to resolving the challenges of this region, including the conflicts in Somalia and South Sudan.
Kenya and the United Kingdom stand today as two diverse, vibrant, globally-connected countries, engaged with each other and with the world.
I am confident we will continue to work together to tackle the challenges we face, to bring greater security and prosperity to our people.
Mr Hailey is the British High Commissioner to Kenya Nairobi. [email protected]