Mixed feelings as demands for compensation cloud royal visit

President William Ruto and King Charles III at Mtongwe Naval Base in Likoni, Mombasa County.  [PCS]

There was a military guard of honour nearly everywhere the royal couple went. A red carpet rolled out in the middle of the jungle. Although seemingly exaggerated, Britain’s King Charles III and Queen Camilla truly got a reception fit for royalty.

The warm welcome contradicted the hostility that preceded his four-day State visit that ended Friday, which saw rights groups and victims of colonial brutality demand an apology from the King.

King Charles had billed his tour of Kenya, the first to a Commonwealth nation since he ascended to the throne, as aimed at acknowledging the “painful aspects” of Kenya’s and Britain’s shared history.

Although he spoke little, King Charles’ intentions to confront his nation’s dark past were clear, starting off with a tour of Uhuru Gardens.

In this colonial-era concentration camp, thousands of Kenyans were held and tortured. The 74-year-old Head of State laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown warriors in honour of Kenyans who died in the independence struggle.

That Tuesday evening, Charles would express his regret over the atrocities of the colonial regime, in a heart-rendering speech at the State banquet held in his honour.

“In coming back to Kenya, it matters greatly to me that I deepen my understanding of some of these wrongs, and that I meet some of those whose lives and communities were so grievously affected. None of this can change the past but by addressing our history with honesty and openness, we can, perhaps, demonstrate the strength of our friendship today,” said the King, stopping short of issuing an apology as demanded by colonial victims.

On Wednesday, the monarch met surviving Kenyan World War veterans at the Kariokor Commonwealth war graves, where he also honoured the dead who fought alongside the British.

He would also privately meet families of some of Kenya’s freedom fighters, who hold lamentable grievances against the United Kingdom.

Among those he met include Evelyn Kimathi and Ambrose Tarus, family members of Dedan Kimathi and Koitalel arap Samoei.

Kimathi’s family wants his remains identified, with Samoei’s seeking to have his skull repatriated, more than a century after the Nandi hero was assassinated.

His remarks have divided opinion.

As Kenyans insisted on an unequivocal apology with accompanying reparations, as demanded by President William Ruto, some in the United Kingdom argued that such demands made little sense, given the former British Empire’s efforts to advance Kenya’s economy and a previous payout to some 5,000 Mau Mau veterans.

“Our problems began with colonialism and the British should apologise and compensate our people because they got their wealth from us (their colonies),” Machakos Senator Agnes Kavindu said Saturday.

Moi University history lecturer Dr Timothy Onduru told the Sunday Standard that reparations would help “appease” the families of victims of colonial atrocities, even as he lauded the King’s tour as a significant expression of his nation’s regret.

In his tour of Kenya, the King was also evidently keen on advancing a future for the Commonwealth of Nations, an organisation fashioned from the ashes of the former empire.

His push to strengthen the Britain-led outfit comes as countries within its realm in the Caribbean are contemplating an exit.

“...my mother, Her late Majesty (Queen Elizabeth II), cared deeply that Kenya chose to be a member of the Commonwealth and was always grateful Kenya has played an essential role in this family of nations, to which she devoted so much of her life.

“On this, my first State visit to a Commonwealth country, I wish to reaffirm my own pledge to support the Commonwealth’s bold vision for action and the values upon which it rests – that one-third of the world’s population, united by peace, justice, tolerance and mutual respect, should commit to protecting our environment and the most vulnerable in our societies,” King Charles said.

Belgut MP Nelson Koech, who chairs the National Assembly Defence, Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committee said the biggest achievement of the visit is revitalising Kenya-UK diplomatic relations.

The last State visit by a British monarch was by Queen Elizabeth in 1983 as Kenya was commemorating 20 years of friendship with Britain.

“The King’s visit is the much needed shot in the arm for our tourism and we are bracing for a notable boost given UK is among the top three tourist source markets to Kenya,” he said.

However Prof Gitile Naituli, who teaches management and leadership at the Multimedia University of Kenya, argues that the Commonwealth has outlived its usefulness.

“Our partnership with China has yielded many projects, including roads we all praise. We have been with Britain for 130 years. What can we point out as the fruits of this relationship?” Prof Naituli posed.

“We spent too much money entertaining the King who brought us nothing in return. The Sh8 billion support towards education is significantly less than the money we pay to apply for UK visas. To me, there was no significant agreement,” he added.