«The people of Kenya have always had a fondness for the beautiful and graceful 25-year-old royal who came to our country as a princess and left as a queen. » It is in these terms that the outgoing president, Uhuru Kenyatta, paid tribute to Elizabeth II. She was indeed in Kenya when her father died and she acceded to the throne.
A princess who became a queen
On February 6, 1952, Elizabeth woke up with Prince Philip at Treetops, a nature viewing lodge perched atop a giant fig tree in Aberdare Park in central Kenya. The royal couple, then on a full Commonwealth tour, had decided to take a break from their official obligations. The day before, they had spent the day observing elephants, rhinos and baboons.
Due to communication difficulties, Elizabeth didn’t hear the news until several hours later, after leaving the Treetops, but the legend remained: it was in this pavilion that a princess became queen. The establishment had made it its pride. Before closing its doors during the Covid-19 pandemic, it attracted its share of tourists who could stay in the “Princess Elizabeth” suite.
The royal couple had returned there in 1983. It was, however, a new building, with the perched pavilion having burned down two years after the Queen’s stay, in what was presented as an arson attack by the Mau Mau, the rebels anti-colonial.
An insurrection violently repressed by the British
Because the beginning of the reign of the queen coincided with the beginning of their rebellion against the colonial administration. The insurrection was violently suppressed. From 1952, and until the end of the movement in 1960, the British implemented a state of emergency. Torture, executions, detention in camps… At least 10,000 rebels lost their lives there, according to the lowest estimates. Entire communities were also expelled from their lands by British imperial forces.
Kenya gained independence in 1963. To date, the UK has not apologized for crimes committed during colonization. London expressed «sincere regret» in 2013 and just over 5,000 Mau Mau veterans were compensated, but many victims are still awaiting reparations. This is particularly the case of the Kipsigi and Talai communities, which were driven from their land by the British in favor of tea plantations.
Last May, representatives of more than 100,000 victims wrote a letter to Prince William demanding an apology and reparations. She remained unanswered. In August, they filed a complaint against the United Kingdom before the European Court of Human Rights.
Colonization left a bitter memory
Thus, if Uhuru Kenyatta evokes a «affection » Kenyans for the queen, some keep a bitter memory of her beginnings as sovereign. “It’s hard to keep a positive image of someone who was part of the colonization, because of all the suffering Kenyans went through,” explains Philip from the streets of Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.
A situation that did not prevent Uhuru Kenyatta from declaring a period of national mourning on Friday. «She was a great ruler», approves Brian, perched on his motorbike taxi on a Nairobi sidewalk, impressed by “the many governments she has advised over the years”. For three days, the flags remained at half mast in Kenya, in tribute to the late queen.