The King stopped short of an apology during the trip to the Commonwealth country while acknowledging "abhorrent" acts of violence against Kenyans
King Charles is speaking about the painful past during his state visit to Kenya.
On Tuesday, the King, 74, broached the subject during a state banquet at the State House in Nairobi. King Charles addressed some of the darkest times in British colonial history during the couple's tour of the African country this week, and his comments came at the end of his first full day abroad with Queen Camilla. The visit marks King Charles and Queen Camilla’s first trip to a Commonwealth country since his accession upon the death of Queen Elizabeth in September 2022.
"It is the intimacy of our shared history that has brought our people together. However, we must also acknowledge the most painful times of our long and complex relationship," the monarch said.
"The wrongdoings of the past are a cause of the greatest sorrow and the deepest regret," he continued. "There were abhorrent and unjustifiable acts of violence committed against Kenyans as they waged, as you said at the United Nations, a painful struggle for independence and sovereignty – and for that, there can be no excuse."
"In coming back to Kenya, it matters greatly to me that I should deepen my own understanding of these wrongs, and that I meet some of those whose lives and communities were so grievously affected," he said.
"None of this can change the past. But by addressing our history with honesty and openness we can, perhaps, demonstrate the strength of our friendship today. And, in so doing, we can, I hope, continue to build an ever-closer bond for the years ahead," King Charles said.
King Charles' speech also touched on the country's significance to his family.
"It means a great deal to my wife and myself that, in our coronation year, our first state visit to a Commonwealth country should bring us here to Kenya," he said. "We both take considerable pride in renewing the ties between the United Kingdom and Kenya, a country that has long held such special meaning for my family."
He then said in Swahili, "Today, I don't feel like a visitor."
"It is well known, I think, that my dear mother, The late Queen, had a particular affection for Kenya and the Kenyan people. She arrived here in 1952 a princess but left as Queen," the King continued, speaking about how Queen Elizabeth acceded to the throne during a tour there when her father, King George VI, died unexpectedly. "It is extremely moving to read her diary from that visit, in which she wrote that she did not want to miss a moment of Kenya’s extraordinary landscapes. I really cannot thank you enough for the support Kenya gave her through that difficult time."
King Charles also recalled how his father, Prince Philip, attended the celebrations of Kenya's independence in 1963 as well as when Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton in Kenya in 2010.
"It was here, in sight of Mount Kenya, that my son, the Prince of Wales, proposed to his wife, now my beloved daughter-in-law," he said.
In the run-up to the state visit, some demanded that the King apologize for abuses in the colonial period on behalf of the crown. Buckingham Palace said that the royal couple would "acknowledge the more painful aspects of the U.K. and Kenya’s shared history," when the visit was confirmed earlier this month, and hinted that there was more to come.
"His Majesty will take time during the visit to deepen his understanding of the wrongs suffered in this period by the people of Kenya. Together, Their Majesties will tour a new museum dedicated to Kenya’s history and will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at Uhuru Gardens, as well as visiting the site of the declaration of Kenya’s independence in 1963,” the palace said in a statement.
The mention of “wrongs suffered” referred to The Emergency or the Mau Mau rebellion, which was met with a violent and brutal British-led crackdown in the 1950s. Led mostly by the Kikuyu people, the Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial rule and internal Kenyan opposition to independence led to tens of thousands of deaths.
According to the BBC, an estimated 11,000 Mau Mau rebels and others were killed, but unofficial figures estimate much higher numbers. Some estimates say there were as many as 90,000 Kenyans executed, while more than 150,000 were detained.
As a constitutional monarch, King Charles is tied to acting on the advice and recommendations of the U.K. government of the day. While Britain has given around $25 million in compensation and — in the words of the then-Foreign Secretary in 2013 — “recognized Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration,” it has not apologized.
Despite pressure from protestors and some historians, King Charles is not expected to apologize during the trip to Kenya. Writing in the U.K. newspaper The Observer over the weekend, Harvard University professor and the author of Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya Caroline Elkins said Sunday, “Firstly, King Charles III, you need to stop choking on those two words, 'I apologize.' Just cough them up.”
“They will probably trigger all sorts of liability issues for you and your government, but at last count, the monarchy is worth over £20 billion, so you could give several quid – some of which were stolen from or earned on the backs of colonized people – to the British taxpayer to cover this,” Elkins pressed.
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King Charles and Queen Camilla’s four-day stay was made to help mark the 60th anniversary of Kenya’s independence, which is officially celebrated on December 12.
The royal couple arrived in the capital of Nairobi on Monday evening and officially kicked off the trip on Tuesday, which came at the invitation of the Kenyan President Dr. William Ruto.
The King and Queen were welcomed by Ruto and the First Lady of the Republic of Kenya Rachel Ruto and heard the Kenyan Defence Force band playing the anthems of the two countries. After a twenty-one gun salute, the couple planted two native trees before bilateral meetings inside the State House.
The King and President, 56, spoke about shared interests between Kenya and the U.K., while Camilla checked out a gallery of images capturing the work of the First Lady’s organization, Mama Doing Good, which focuses on the environment, climate action and the economic empowerment of women.
King Charles and Queen Camilla later moved to the Uhuru Gardens and National Monument and Museum to immerse themselves in Kenyan history. The King and President laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior and viewed the Mũgomo Tree at the site of the declaration of Kenya’s independence in 1963.
Inside the museum, the royals met local schoolkids and viewed exhibits on Kenyan history and the timeline to the country's independence.
In a poignant turn at the Uhuru (which means “freedom” in Kiswahili) garden, Charles and Camilla acknowledged the statues of Mekatilili wa Menza and Dedan Kimathi, who fought for Kenyan independence, before touring the Hall of Witness. They also walked through the Tunnel of Martyrs, which remembers those Kenyans who have lost their lives in conflict throughout the nation’s history.
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