For some Africans, the Queen will always be tied to centuries of colonialism and slavery

·3 min read

Queen Elizabeth's death has triggered a range of reactions from members of Canada's African diaspora. For some, she will forever be tied to the grievous harms suffered by Africans during centuries of slavery and colonialism.

According to the U.K.'s national archives, "Britain was one of the most successful slave-trading countries. Together with Portugal, the two countries accounted for about 70 per cent of all Africans transported to the Americas."

That history, and Britain's ensuing intervention in Africa, has elicited strong criticism of the monarchy.

"Her personal fortune was built on slavery and colonization, death [and] genocide," said Rinaldo Walcott, a professor at the University of Toronto whose research focuses on Black cultural studies.

"The Queen and the monarchy represent to me the ongoing brutal history of colonization." - Rinaldo Walcott, professor of Black cultural studies

Turgut Yeter/CBC
Turgut Yeter/CBC

"Almost any Black nation in the world that has been touched by the British Empire continues to be at the bottom of every global measure possible," Walcott adds. "At the same time, these same countries and their peoples — everything has been extracted from them."

South African far-left political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters released a public letter after the Queen's death stating they do not mourn the monarch because "her death is a reminder of a very tragic period in [South Africa] and Africa's history."

The letter noted the dispossession of land and resources experienced by Africans during Britain's colonial rule across the continent.

It was also the British Royal Family that sanctioned the actions of Cecil John Rhodes, who plundered this country, Zimbabwe and Zambia," read the statement.

Rhodes, a British-born South African, was an imperialist, businessman and politician during the reign of Queen Victoria. He founded the De Beers diamond firm in 1888, and he played an instrumental role in the late 19th-century seizure of vast swaths of land.

Rhodes saw the English as a master race, and his policies are viewed as having paved the way for apartheid in South Africa.

'Colonialism isn't a single event'

Sharon Nyangweso, who is originally from Kenya, said the social and economic effects of colonialism are still being felt in Africa today.

"Sometimes when people think about colonialism ... they think of it as a historical thing that is played out in a Game of Thrones type situation. But my father was born when Kenya was a colony," she said.

Anne M. Patterson
Anne M. Patterson

"Colonialism isn't a single event. It is a system that we are still navigating and reeling from. We all have stories like that of my great-grandmother who educated her children, her daughter specifically, in the dark of night because they weren't allowed to go to the colonial schools."

Nyangweso also points to the treatment of anti-colonialists in Kenya as an example of Britain's violent legacy in the East African country. In the 1940s, nationalists had pushed Britain for political rights and land reforms.

But thousands of Kenyans were detained and killed during the Mau Mau revolt against British rule in the 1950s. In 2013, the U.K. government agreed to pay about $30 million Cdn to Kenyans abused and tortured by British colonial forces during the uprising.

Others say they 'mourn the Queen'

Still, some Africans in Canada remain steadfast in their devotion to the Queen and are lamenting her death.

"Most Ghanaians I talk to, most of them are heartbroken," said Ghanaian-Canadian Thomas Adu.

Turgut Yeter/CBC
Turgut Yeter/CBC

Britain played an important role in shaping Ghana, Adu says, and the African country's connection to England as a member of the Commonwealth is a source of pride.

"A lot of teachers [in Ghana] came from the U.K., so we had a lot of assistance from Britain," said Adu.

"If I had my way I would like to go to Buckingham Palace and mourn the Queen."