British monarchy has survived for centuries as others collapsed

President Daniel Arap Moi toasting with Prince Charles during his visit to Kenya in March 1987. [File, Standard]

As King Charles visits Kenya, a former British colony, it is worth asking why the monarchy has survived when many others across Europe have fallen.

At home in the British Isles, the monarchy remains relevant in the sense that the king still signs Bills into law, receives elected Prime Ministers and is still in charge of the military.

A survey done five months ago and carried by The Guardian newspaper on the eve of the king's coronation however showed that only three in 10 Britons think monarchy is "very important".

A survey by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) showed public support for the monarchy had fallen to a historic low. A total of 45 per cent of respondents said either it should be abolished, was not at all important or not very important.

Overall, the monarchy continues to be a key part of the British society and by extension the rest of the Commonwealth of Nations because of its historical and sentimental ties with its colonies among them, Kenya.

Strategic and political consultant Barrack Muluka, a keen observer of British ways, says the British monarchy has survived because it has always been reformatory, unlike others in Europe.

This is despite the fact that, like other monarchies in Europe, it was established through conquests, in the United Kingdom by William the conqueror in the year 1066.

"While all monarchies in Europe were established through conquests, in Britain it was the Normans conquering the Saxons, a monarchy that became sensitive to civic activities and sentiments of the people," says Dr Muluka.

By 1215, it had become the first monarchy to impress democratic thinking and behaviour through the coming into being of the great Magna Carta charter which was hugely a reformatory document.

Magna Carta was issued in June 1215 and was the first document to put into writing the principle that the king and his government were not above the law.

It sought to prevent the king from exploiting his power and placed limits on royal authority by establishing law as a power in itself.

That deed included popular voices and appeals into the system of governance apart from establishing a parliamentary system of government and the monarchy ceasing to be an absolute institution of power.

Muluka further argues that although the kingdom remained a constitutional monarchy, the reformatory path it established early enough was embraced by great thinkers when the Age of Enlightenment began in the 16th century.

"Great thinkers like John Locke found that the system they were heralding had already taken root in Great Britain and Ireland when they came in to influence change in British society," says Muluka.

He compares the British monarchy to others like the Bourbon in France and the House of Habsburg in Austria which crushed all opposition and extended its tentacles throughout Europe but failed to survive.

He reasons that The Habsburg monarchy failed because they were reactionary in the political science contest due to their resistance to change while the British one was always amenable to new ideas.

The latter survived by taking advantage of its imperial reach in the colonies which became a source of a lot of wealth that sustained it for a number of decades.

Prof Amukoa Anangwe, the chairman University of Nairobi Council, and also an observer of British ways, says the British monarchy came up with the idea of converting the former colonies into a Commonwealth of States to preserve its economic and political influence.

"Colonies were essentially a market for British goods and a source of raw materials and they wanted that continuity but independence of those countries later opened room for competition by other western powers for markets," says Anangwe.

The British Empire received more beating with the emergence of American influence after the Second World War over western European countries, which made the UK appear more like a satellite state to the US.

Anangwe contends that after Second World War and the introduction of Pax Americana, the UK became a satellite state of the US in the new world order.

The second world war created Pax Americana, a term applied to the concept of relative peace in the Western Hemisphere and later in the world after the end of World War II in 1945 when the US became the world's dominant economic, cultural and military power.

"Their influence waned even in their former colonies because of American influence but that precedence of political and economic interests power play is emerging again as the Chinese try to supplant the US dominance," adds Anangwe.

So British political and economic influence dwindled over the years in countries like Kenya where the flow of trade is now dominated by China while other players like Russia are also becoming increasingly dominant on the African continent.

Having been the biggest Foreign Direct Investment partner in the 1970s, Britain's involvement is not as pronounced now as it used to be, meaning from the contemporary point of view, its relationship with Kenya is more historical but minimal in economic leverage.

The Commonwealth which is largely overseen by the monarchy is also just a club, whose influence is also minimal except in a handful of countries where the head of the monarchy still acts as head of state.

British historians have also written extensively on the survival of their monarchy explaining that after the mental breakdowns of George III and the debacle of the failures of George IV, Parliament made sure that the monarch would reign but not rule.

They made the Prime Minister effectively the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) but they are accountable to the monarch's Cabinet and the House of Commons and can be unseated at any time.

That flexibility and accountability are the advantages of the Parliamentary system although of course not any guarantee of perfection.

Some in the UK argue that the 18th-century US Constitution is a version of the 18th-century UK monarchy whereby the President is essentially an elected monarch as has been witnessed by recent events in the Donald Trump administration.

"The largely aristocratic, oligarchical UK politicians of the early 19th century decided that even residual power could not reside in a figure whose character and temperament might be an unknown quantity," writes Jonathan Trueman.

Multi-Media University lecturer Gitile Naituli attributes the survival of the British monarchy to several factors, one being its ability to adapt and evolve with the times.

He however hastens to add that the fact the king or queen only has ceremonial powers also makes the monarchy less susceptible to power struggles that could threaten its survival.

"They have adapted to change and the shifting political developments in their former colonies over the years to keep the Commonwealth together, thus remaining largely relevant despite losing the vast British empire," says Prof Naituli.

Muluka says like all other monarchies, the British royalty was weakened significantly by the two world wars, making Britain's economic position fairly weak and the maintenance of colonies unsustainable.

That is why Harold Macmillan came to African in February 1960 and made his famous statement about the wind of change that was blowing across the colonies and especially in Africa.

"Sooner than later Europe would have to reckon with the reality that colonialism has had its day and the colonies must be allowed to determine their own destiny," said Macmillan.

Since then Britain quickly receded into the shadows and began playing a ceremonial role everywhere, starting with its home base and moving on to the so-called Commonwealth of Nations.

Naituli says the fact that the British monarchy had the fortune to learn the consequences of absolutist ambition without ideology offering a popular alternative coincidentally impacted its influence.

Other analysts however regard Royals as an altruistic element in British life with a role of adopting charities and cutting ribbons at civic events.

Naituli adds that because pressures have been gradually eased, the monarchy has also evolved due to evolution but without revolution as happened in France and Austria.

"The British monarchy doesn't oppress anyone but there are critics who may not like the character of some in the family or the regalia they wear otherwise they don't play any serious role in governance and the visit to Kenya may have no material value," says Naituli.

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