Dismantle the Commonwealth: Queen Elizabeth’s Death Prompts Reckoning with Colonial Past in Africa

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The death of Queen Elizabeth II has focused global attention on the British royal family and renewed criticism of the monarchy both inside the U.K. and abroad, especially among peoples colonized by Britain. “There’s a degree of psychosis that you can go to another people’s land, colonize them, and then expect them to honor you at the same time,” says Kenyan American author Mukoma Wa Ngugi, who teaches literature at Cornell University and whose own family was deeply impacted by the bloody British suppression of the Mau Mau revolution. He says that with Queen Elizabeth’s death, there needs to be a “dismantling” of the Commonwealth and a real reckoning with colonial abuses. We also speak with Harvard historian Caroline Elkins, a leading scholar of British colonialism, who says that while it’s unclear how much Queen Elizabeth personally knew about concentration camps, torture and other abuses in Kenya during her early reign, the monarchy must reckon with that legacy. “Serious crimes happened on the queen’s imperial watch. In fact, her picture hung in every detention camp in Kenya as detainees were beaten in order to exact their loyalty to the British crown,” says Elkins.

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