Queen Elizabeth’s death elicits duelling emotions in many African countries

By Eniola Akinkuotu, Julian Pecquet
Posted on Friday, 9 September 2022 00:45

Queen Elizabeth II is partnered by Ghana President Kwame Nkrumah as they dance the popular Ghana music known as "High Life" at a farewell ball given in honor of the Queen and her husband at the state house in Accra, Ghana at night on Saturday, Nov. 18, 1961.
Queen Elizabeth II is partnered by Ghana President Kwame Nkrumah as they dance the popular Ghana music known as "High Life" at a farewell ball given in honor of the Queen and her husband at the state house in Accra, Ghana at night on Saturday, Nov. 18, 1961. (AP Photo)

News of Queen Elizabeth II's death elicited a wide range of responses and emotions across Africa, with political leaders of many stripes publicly mourning the passing of Britain's longest-serving monarch. Meanwhile, critics slammed her post-colonial legacy and much of the younger generation showed minimal interest.

Buckingham Palace announced the 96-year-old queen’s death in the evening of 8 September.

One of the first African leaders to respond was President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana, which Elizabeth II famously visited four years after independence in 1961, ushering in a new era of relations between the United Kingdom and its former colonies. Akufo-Addo announced on Twitter that flags would be flown at half mast across the country for seven days.

READ MORE: UK/Africa – towards a new partnership

“My thoughts and the thoughts of all Ghanaians, at home and abroad, are with Queen Elizabeth II, the British Monarch and Head of the Commonwealth, the organization of which Ghana is a proud member, and her family in these difficult moments,” Akufo-Addo said. “I wish her the best and God’s blessings.”

Ex-presidents John Mahama and John Kufuor also took to Twitter to honour the queen’s memory.

“Sad to hear the passing of Queen Elizabeth II,” Mahama said. “She carried her royal duties with grace, poise & dignity. An icon of pride not only to the British people but the Commonwealth. Our hearts go out to King Charles III and the Royal Family. May God grant her peaceful repose.”

The Commonwealth family

Other leaders quickly followed suit, expressing condolences to the royal family and the British people while praising the late queen for helping keep the association of countries of the former British empire together for 70 years.

President Muhammadu Buhari sent out a string of tweets around midnight local time noting Nigeria’s “immense sadness” at her passing and praying that King Charles III’s reign “will witness continuing robust relations between our two nations.”

“The story of modern Nigeria will never be complete without a chapter on Queen Elizabeth ll, a towering global personality and an outstanding leader,” Buhari wrote. “She dedicated her life to making her nation, the Commonwealth and the entire world a better place.”

In Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta released a statement early Friday calling the queen a “towering icon of selfless service to humanity and a key figurehead of not only the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Nations where Kenya is a distinguished member but the entire world.”

Meanwhile President-elect William Ruto called the Queen’s leadership of the Commonwealth of Nations “admirable”.

“The modern Commonwealth is her legacy,” echoed President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.

And Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni announced he was postponing this week’s visit to the UK for the 50-year commemoration of the expulsion of Indians from Uganda by Idi Amin in 1972.

“I did not think it appropriate to continue with the trip given this loss to the UK and the Commonwealth,” Museveni said.

President Faure Gnassingbé of Togo also expressed his “heartfelt condolences to the British people and the great Commonwealth family”.

“The sadness at the passing of Queen Elizabeth II today goes beyond Great Britain and expands to the whole world,” Gnassingbé wrote on Twitter, “as the late Queen was undoubtedly an universal figure of her country’s influence and friendship towards peoples worldwide.”

And President Ali Bongo of Gabon also tweeted that “Tonight, the Commonwealth family is mourning Queen Elizabeth II.”

“The Queen was a great friend of Africa and Africa affectionated her in return,” Bongo wrote. “I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the British people, to her son, my friend His Majesty King Charles III and family.”

Sharing condolences

Meanwhile, despite UK sanctions on Zimbabwe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe offered his “deepest condolences to the royal family, the people of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth as they mourn the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II.”

And in Nigeria, 2023 presidential candidates Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar rushed to offer their condolences for the death of a woman who some in Nigeria  affectionately call “Mama Charlie”.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the Royal Family, the entire United Kingdom and the Commonwealth nations, over this irreplaceable loss,” Obi, the leader of Nigeria’s Labour Party, wrote on Twitter. “Hers was an impactful reign and beautiful and explored life devoted to democratic ideals, charity, selflessness and empathy. She will always be remembered by the lives, organisations, institutions and countries she positively touched during her reign.”

If anyone expects me to express anything but disdain for the monarch who supervised a government that sponsored the genocide that massacred and displaced half my family and the consequences of which those alive today are still trying to overcome, you can keep wishing upon a star.

Abubakar, a former vice-president who is running for the top post as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, called the Queen’s passing a “rude shock”.

“Her passing is an end of a golden era,” he wrote on Twitter. “Her reign was epochal, not just in the United Kingdom but the entire Commonwealth.”

Critics have their say, too

The show of support was not without its critics, however.

In Ghana, Queen Elizabeth II remains a towering figure and many Ghanaians mourned her death on social media using the keywords #QueenElizabeth and Maa Lizzy. Many children of different generations have been named after her, and the 840-bed capacity Queen Elizabeth II hall of residence stands tall at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in her honour in Kumasi.

But not everyone is enthused about the prominent attention being paid to her passing. Obadele Kambon, an associate professor at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, told The Africa Report that the decision to honour Queen Elizabeth’s memory in Ghana betrays the struggles of Africans for freedom from colonial rule.

“For us to decide to honour this woman, I would say that in many ways it is a betrayal all of those Africans who have perished at the hands of the British,” Kambon said. “Per the records of the Brits, I am not someone who will celebrate her. She was an enemy to Black people.”

In a post that quickly garnered tens of thousands of likes along with significant pushback, Nigerian-born linguist and university professor Uju Anya of Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania denounced the Queen for her role in the Nigerian civil war of 1967-1970. At the time, the British government supplied arms and ammunition to the military dictatorship that crushed the Biafran rebellion.

“If anyone expects me to express anything but disdain for the monarch who supervised a government that sponsored the genocide that massacred and displaced half my family and the consequences of which those alive today are still trying to overcome, you can keep wishing upon a star,” Anya wrote.

Colonial and post-colonial legacies

The comments are representative of the varied feelings towards the UK across the continent 60 years after independence. While post-colonial ties endure, many blame pre-independence decisions and Western policies for poverty and strife in Africa.

Recent polling from Afrobarometer shows that only 46% of people surveyed said that former colonial powers are having a positive economic and political influence on the continent. That is less than China (63%) and the United States (60%) but more than Russia (35%).

At the same time, Togo and Gabon this year became the latest two African countries to join the Commonwealth of Nations, bringing the total of members to 56 – including 21 in Africa – and demonstrating the continued appeal of ties to Britain despite the end of its empire.

Much of Africa’s young population appears to have little interest in the monarchy. As news of the Queen’s death broke across the world, many of those in cafes in Abuja were busy watching Arsenal defeat FC Zurich 2-1 in the Europa League.

Jonas Nyabor in Accra, Ghana contributed to this report.

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