Their refusal to mourn highlights the complexity of the legacy of the Queen, who despite widespread popularity was also seen as a symbol of oppression in parts of the world where the British Empire once extended.
Kenya, which had been under British rule since 1895, was named an official colony in 1920 and remained that way until it won independence in 1963. Among the worst atrocities under British rule occurred during the Mau Mau uprising, which started in 1952 — the year Queen Elizabeth took the throne.
Africa’s memory of the Queen cannot be separated from that colonial past, professor of communication Farooq Kperogi at Kennesaw State University told CNN.
“The Queen’s legacy started in colonialism and is still wrapped in it. It used to be said that the sun did not set over the British empire. No amount of compassion or sympathy that her death has generated can wipe that away,” he told CNN.
While many African leaders have mourned her passing — including Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who described her reign as “unique and wonderful” — other prominent voices in regional politics have not.
“Our interaction with Britain has been one of pain, … death and dispossession, and of the dehumanisation of the African people,” it added.
Others recalled Britain’s role in the Nigerian civil war, where arms were secretly supplied to the government for use against Biafrans who wanted to form a breakaway republic. Between 1 million and 3 million people died in that war. British musician John Lennon returned his MBE, an honorary title, to the Queen in protest over Britain’s role in the war.
Still, many on the continent remember the Queen as a stabilizing force who brought about positive change during her reign.
Ayodele Modupe Obayelu from Nigeria told CNN: “Her reign saw the end of the British Empire and the African countries … became a Republic. She doesn’t really deserve any award or standing ovation for it, but it was a step in the right direction.”
And Ovation magazine publisher Dele Momodu was full of praise, recounting meeting her in 2003 in Abuja while covering her visit to Nigeria. He added that he had fled Nigeria for the UK in 1995, during the dictator Sani Abacha’s regime.
“I told her I was a refugee and now the publisher of a magazine. She told me ‘congratulations,’ and moved on to the other people on the line. I salute her. She worked to the very end and was never tired of working for her country. She did her best for her country and that is a lesson in leadership,” he told CNN.
Momodu believes that the Queen did try to “atone” for the brutality of the British Empire. “She came to Nigeria during our independence and some of the artifacts were returned under her reign. That is why the Commonwealth continues to thrive. I feel very sad that the world has lost a great human being.”
Adekunbi Rowland, also from Nigeria, said: “The Queen’s passing represents the end of an era. As a woman, I’m intrigued by her story. This young woman had an unprecedented accession to the throne, and with much grace and dignity did everything in her power to protect the country and Commonwealth she loved no matter what it took.”
It was while visiting Kenya in 1952 that she learned that she had become Queen. Her father George passed away while she was there with Prince Phillip and she immediately ascended the throne.
As colonialism later crumbled and gave way to independence and self-rule in what had been British overseas territories, the former colonies became part of a Commonwealth group of nations with the Queen at its head and she worked tirelessly to keep the group together over the years.
She forged strong bonds with African leaders, including Nelson Mandela, whom she visited twice in South Africa, and Kwame Nkrumah, with whom she was famously pictured dancing during her visit to Ghana in 1961.
In June, Prince Charles became the first UK royal to visit Rwanda, where he was representing the Queen at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
Following his mother’s death, he now heads the Commonwealth, and will embark on a new relationship with its members, about a third of which are in Africa.
Some are asking whether he will be as effective in building the organization as his mother, and above all, how relevant it still is, given its roots in Empire.