Australian Economy

What is at stake for the British Commonwealth?

Nicole Aljoe, who is Jamaican, has seen an array of reactions to the death of Queen Elizabeth II in her family chats on WhatsApp. 

With some relatives living in Canada and the U.K., Aljoe has noticed that older people were sad and upset about the passing of the queen and talked very respectfully of her.

“They have a completely different relationship with her,” Aljoe, professor of English and Africana studies at Northeastern University, says.

Many of Aljoe’s older relatives attended schools in Jamaica or the U.K. at the time when Queen Elizabeth II was portrayed as the mother of the realms, she says, which meant they were a part of her family.

The 15 flags of the countries that constitute the Commonwealth realm and now have King Charles III as their monarch and head of state. Graphic by Zach Christensen/Northeastern

Jamaica was one of the dominions of the British monarchy from 1655 until 1962, when it gained independence from the British Empire. The country remained a Commonwealth realm with the British monarch as its head of state, represented by an appointed ​​governor-general.

Nowadays, the British monarchy rules over 15 remaining realms, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Tuvalu. 

The British monarch also presides over the Commonwealth of Nations, a voluntary association of 56 countries, most of which are former British colonies, with a combined population of 2.5 billion people.

Aljoe’s younger relatives had a more nuanced if not outright negative reaction to Queen Elizabeth II’s death, she says, because they had an opportunity to take postcolonial studies classes and learned about the wrongdoings of the British Empire. The younger generation believes that the queen as the monarch was somewhat responsible for horrifying events in Jamaica’s history, she says. 

Jamaicans have been seeking an apology from the British crown and reparations for decades, writes NPR, as the empire forced hundreds of thousands of African slaves to toil the island and cultivate cane sugar under brutal conditions, including rape and murder.

“One could argue that continued devaluation of the Jamaican economy, the fact that it has to depend on tourism is a complete outgrowth of the fact that it was colonized by the U.K. and that certain aspects of its potential economic development were not explored,” Aljoe says.

Similar feelings are shared by people in other former British colonies, for example, in Africa.

The leader of the South African party Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, Mzwanele Nyhontso, said that his party couldn’t sing praises for a monarchy that engineered trans-Atlantic slave trade that resulted in the genocide of more than 12 million Africans and in forced, illegal extraction of more than 20 million compatriots.  Slavery robbed the continent of its labor and built economies of Western Hemisphere instead, Nythontso said. 

Northeastern’s Associate Professor of Cultures, Societies and Global Studies Richard Wamai says the death of Queen Elizabeth II marks a lost opportunity for the monarch to come to terms and move further ahead from the injustices committed in Kenya, his home country.

Princess Elizabeth was staying at Treetops Lodge in Aberdare National Park in Kenya in February 1952, when her father, King George VI, died, and she learned that she became a queen at the age of 25.

One year later, Wamai’s mother, Immaculate Wangui Wamai, was imprisoned for three years for supporting Mau Mau freedom fighters, when they rebelled against the white European colonist settlers, the British Army and local pro-British forces.

Wamai’s mother was concerned with oppression and brutality against Black Kenyans, he says, which escalated after the British declared a state of national emergency in 1952.

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