When Lady Diana died in that ill-fated car crash in 1997, I remember how distraught my mother was as she sat in the big armchair in the living room, shifting frantically from one position to the other, tears swelling in her eyes, with the remote control gripped strongly in her hand. I was very young then and I did not understand why some lady in some faraway land was able to make my mother that sad.
It was only years later that I came to know of the vicissitudes in the royal family and everything that had ensued in the marriage of Lady Diana to Prince Charles, and of her subsequent relationship with Dodi Al Fayed and then of the causes of that fatal car crash. I also came to know that my mother and many women of her generation blamed her death on Queen Elisabeth II, either directly or indirectly.
For many women in my mother’s generation, this sentiment is shared is quite clear. Until this day, Camilla, Prince Charles’s long-time lover and Queen Consort is detested by an entire generation of women, and that sentiment has been passed on to their daughters, for the most part. My sister did not hold back her sentiments to me, in any uncertain terms, over these last days that Queen Elisabeth II’s passing and the ensuing coronation of future King Charles III has been a hot topic.
But outside of this Victorian, Jane Eyre-Esque considerations, the conversation on social media has largely drifted around the British Empire and the evil it has committed around the world in its search for what we were taught was spices. It has been quite fascinating watching these two very polarizing sentiments towards the British Empire and its mutation from the time when the Netflix show “The Crown” was a hot topic and the current mood around the passing of Queen Elisabeth II.
Very fascinating indeed as the institution that was just months ago a source of gossip and entertainment, particularly with the Meghan Markle debacle and the rumours of Prince William’s extra-marital affairs has now become the recipient of vitriol as numerous essays and opinion pieces have been written by ordinary people as well as by people of repute and leading voices on social media. And here is another one of them
This fascination and disdain for the crown are indeed interesting. This has led me to question some of the negative sentiments expressed. Are people really that resentful of the British Empire these days or are they actually driven by the current habit on social media which is always to be militant about just about anything one can be militant about? These days it is like people wake up and actively search for something they can become offended about. Woke, for lack of a better word, is what it can be called. I’ll not go as much as denying that people do not feel the relevance of a topic when it is of high interest, but still, the question stands.
Are we really that sentimental about what the British Empire did? Do we, 60 years really care that much or do we feel compelled to say something? Do we really think the just-deceased queen (and the crown, by extension) is actually responsible for those pre-independence years or does the onus fall on the prime ministers?
There is no denying that colonization aided was a dark and very evil part of history. We are reminded of the horrors of King Leopold’s men in the Congo and of the Germans in Namibia, and the French in West Africa. I am of the school of thought that reparations for the evils of colonization need to be paid back to us, starting with the French paying reparations to the victims of the post-independence war it fought on our soil.
But then when I think about all of this, I look at our own governments and I begin to ask myself if we have had it worse under the colonisers or under our own countrymen. If we look at how many people have died in the Anglophone crisis and compare it to the number of people killed after the UPC went into the maquis, then we begin to ask if the current outrage and where it is directed it is time-considerate.
For Cameroon in particular it is particularly glaring. Suppose one looks at Botswana for example, which many call the Miracle of Africa, and see how it has been able to develop itself at an amazing pace on one main resource, diamonds. In that case, we can ask que’est-ce qui n’a pas marche for us. I believe we all know the answer to that.
Today it is very easy to point the finger at the British Empire and curse the crown for all of our trouble and throw in the buzz words like white supremacy and whatnot, but how much love do we have for ourselves? Are we really apt to curse the crown when we ourselves (and by ‘we’ I mean our governments) cannot show consideration for fellow citizens?
I know many people will bring the argument that the two truths can exist and one does not nullify the other. Granted. But how are we using our own truth to erase the mistakes of the other truth? Are we even using it all?
I am reminded of a quote by Chinua Achebe from his book, A Man Of The People: “We ignore man’s basic nature if we say, as some critics do, that because a man… had risen from overnight from poverty and insignificance to his present opulence he could be persuaded without trouble to give it up and return to his original state.
A man who has just come in from the rain and dried his body, and put on dry clothes is more reluctant to go out again than another who has been indoors the whole time. The trouble with our new nation was that none of us had been indoors long enough to be able to say “to hell with it.” We had all been in the rain together till yesterday.
Then a handful of us – the smart, and the lucky and hardly ever the best – had scrambled for the one shelter our former rulers left, and had taken it over and barricaded themselves in it.”
The trouble with most of Africa these days is with this group of people that have barricaded themselves in. It is really to them that our dissent and protests should be directed. Save your energy on the queen. As it stands, we have very little leverage and we are not powerful enough to make any demands from the British crown. Even Almighty Nigeria cannot get them to send back statues stolen during colonisation. And until we work on ourselves, shouting on social media about the evils of British imperialism will very much be moot.