The jubilee has met with a muted response in much of sub-Saharan Africa, with commentators evoking the troubled history of the British empire, London’s diminished influence and the distraction of deepening economic problems on the continent to explain the apparent apathy.
Buckingham Palace listed 18 official beacons lit in commemoration across Africa last week, and Seychelles president Wavel Ramkalawan described the Queen as “a remarkable global personality whose legacy transcends national borders” who was “loved and respected by the entire world”. But such sentiments are not universal.
In South Africa, where three beacons were lit, even those who have keenly followed the celebrations admit that there is limited interest among most of the population. “I’m watching everything I can. She’s such a lovely lady,” said Edweena Bell, 69, a nanny in west Johannesburg, the country’s commercial capital.
“To English-speaking South Africans, it’s a hankering after the past, the colonial era and all that. It’s romantic. But generally, she doesn’t mean a lot to most people here.”
In Alexandra, a poor neighbourhood in north-east Johannesburg, there was limited interest in the Queen, the jubilee or Britain. “All that was a long time ago … I don’t know what it has to do with us now,” said Clever Dlamini, an unemployed mason, as he queued to buy fried bread rolls.
“It is nice for her but we’ve got other things to worry about.”
South Africa rejoined the Commonwealth in 1994 after the racist, repressive apartheid regime withdrew. The ruling African National Congress has sought diplomatic influence elsewhere, though sporting contacts have flourished.
In Uganda, where international events often prompt intense interest and vocal debate on hugely popular chatshows, the jubilee has also received limited attention. “It’s not an anti-imperialist thing, and there’s no hostility – apart from among elites or a few university-educated people,” said Michael Mutyaba, an independent analyst in Uganda. “It’s just sheer lack of interest. People talked about the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and Russia but are more interested in rising fuel prices than the Queen.”
In contrast, the wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in 2018 was followed closely. “There were lots of debates about whether Meghan would be accepted by the royal family … and talk about racism,” Mutyaba said.
In neighbouring Kenya, another former British colony, memories of the empire are still raw for some. “From the start, [the Queen’s] reign would be indelibly stained by the brutality of the empire she presided over and that accompanied its demise,” said Patrick Gathara, a Kenyan cartoonist, writer and commentator.
The east African country became independent in 1963 after years of violent struggle between a liberation movement and colonial troops. In 2013, the British government apologised for the torture of thousands of Kenyans during the 1950s “Mau Mau” uprising, and paid millions in an out-of-court settlement.
“To this day, she has never publicly admitted, let alone apologised for, the oppression, torture, dehumanisation, and dispossession visited upon people in the colony of Kenya before and after she acceded to the throne,” Gathara said.
Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth under its authoritarian late president Robert Mugabe, and said it would seek readmission after his fall from power in 2017. However, leaders were unwilling to implement necessary reforms and have turned away from the organisation and the west more generally. China and Russia now enjoy closer relations with Zimbabwe’s ruling elite.
“She is becoming irrelevant here,” said Peter Nyapedwa, a social activist. “We know about [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping] or Putin, but not the Queen.”
In recent years, the French government has launched a controversial effort to address the legacy of its empire on the continent. Resentment of the former rulers has provided opportunities for strategic competitors and caused considerable difficulties for Paris in countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso.
Britain has not attempted anything similar. AP contributed reporting from Kenya and Zimbabwe