Cloud of colonialism hangs over Queen Elizabeth’s legacy in Africa
It is difficult to overstate just how profound the Queen’s visit to the continent of Africa will be. Not only will it be one of the most defining and momentous diplomatic interventions of her reign, but it will also represent the most significant recognition of the country she has now been given charge of in nearly a century.
Queen Elizabeth II (r.) and President Barack Obama (l.) at the opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting this week in Cape Town
Yet her visit has been marred by controversy, and even more so, by controversy over how it is handled. For three weeks, the world has been gripped by a series of diplomatic crises which has, in the meantime, resulted in an enormous amount of controversy, both on the continent and across the world.
But what has been most distasteful about the whole incident, from the moment that the Queen set off on her African jaunt, has been her choice to continue on a five-day tour of African countries when the crisis erupted. And, perhaps more importantly, it has also seemed to result in a significant miscalculation of the degree of media interest in the visit, which has seen the Queen’s trip overshadowed by the controversy around her own visit five years ago. Indeed, media attention has been so dominated by the row that when the Queen embarked on her journey the world could have been forgiven for thinking that the Queen was simply on a one-off visit to the African continent.
But what the Queen is doing, far from being a one-off visit, is in a sense repeating the most important legacy she is leaving behind. She is actually marking her second visit down the centuries, not the first. Her first tour was one of a young England, a young Europe, to the same African continent in 1953. And that was of course a momentous occasion on so many levels. At the time, it was seen, rightly, as a symbol of Britain’s new, post-war relationship with the continent.
From the end of World War II until the year Queen Elizabeth II visited, Africa was on the verge of being colonised and, even more starkly, the Western powers were taking the lead in