Mourning The Queen By Interrogating A Tweet By Muhammad Al-Ghazali
POLITICS DIGEST- It is no longer news that the world’s longest ruling monarch from the British House of Windsor, Queen Elisabeth II, died at the ripe old age of 96 a few days ago. In the wake of her demise there have been an avalanche emotion laced eulogies and condolences from Presidents and Heads of states from across the world.
President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed the nation’s heartfelt condolences to the British government and its people, as did the newly elected President of Kenya, William Ruto, along with the Prime Minister of India which was widely regarded as the crown jewel in the defunct British Empire.
The Queen, after all, was not just the titular head of Britain, she also doubled as the Head of the Commonwealth of Nations straddled across Africa, Asia and even the fringes of Latin America. The prompt show of emotional support from Nigeria, Kenya and India is particularly telling, as shall become abundantly evident in the remainder of this essay.
Within the same period, even Vladimir Putin, who’s Russian forces just suffered serious military setbacks in the on-going invasion and partial occupation of Ukraine, found time to dispatch a passionate condolence letter to the royal family in which he praised the Queen’s love and authority in all her dealings with her subjects.
The Chinese President Xi Jinping, similarly at odds with the West and Britain over the Ukraine crisis, also found time to commiserate with the royal family. Chinese Communist Party spokeswoman Mao Ning recalled that Queen Elizabeth was the first British monarch to visit China and also received multiple Chinese state leaders on reverse visits to Britain.
Now, what do all these reactions from even the most formidable adversaries of the British royal family teach us? Well, they relate to the uniqueness and solemnity of death which directly appeals to our common humanity at all times. When decent human beings relate to the dead, it is often marked by a sense of chivalry and compassion, even on the battlefield.
Even in Africa, with its many customs on the rites of passage, infused as it were by the influence of Christianity and Islam in the past several centuries, there’s an unwritten rule many appear to have taken for granted in recent times. Africans don’t mock or nurse king-sized grudges against the dead.
And by most accounts the late Queen Elizabeth was not an ordinary monarch. She may have superintended over the affairs of a dwindling Commonwealth which rose from the ashes of the defunct British empire, but she did so with such style and composure that won her numerous admirers across the world regardless of the antecedents of her ancestors.
When those who mourned the queen spoke about her “soft power”, it was because it reflected both her inner strength and unmistakable resolve, which were evident in the way she managed the postwar affairs of Britain up till the penultimate day before her demise when she swore in her second Prime Minister after Brexit. She was an iron lady in her own refined style.
And if the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher “was not for turning”, the late Queen proved she required no threats, or bravado, to wield her stealthy authority. Has it not been said only too frequently, that the most telling measure of a good football referee is when he is barely noticeable on the field of play?
Like most Nigerians who grew up after the late queen had ascended the throne, I can hardly recall coming across a picture of the late queen with a frown on her face. By contrast, a viral video is currently making the rounds showing King Charles angrily gesticulating to palace aides to clear a table on which he was set to deliver a speech, while also grimacing unhappily in a different part of the same video. May God save the Brits from their King.
All the foregoing apparently meant nothing to a certain Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics Uju Anya, an American of Nigerian ancestry currently with the Carnegie Mellon University in Philadelphia. In a viral tweet presently trending on the social media, Uju prayed for the queen to experience an ‘excruciating death’ in the same way victims of the British empire suffered from the excesses of colonial rule as the monarch battled for life on her sick bed in Scotland.
She accused the British for the serial looting and theft of resources belong to its former colonies including parts of the crown jewels. She also lampooned the deceased monarch for her support for the federal side during the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War which impacted negatively on her extended family.
Predictably, the tweet was greeted with outrage by the likes of the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and numerous others. The tweet was promptly removed by Twitter, which, by Professor Uju’s own subsequent admission, also temporarily blocked her. In the meantime, there were also calls for her institution to sanction her, which it rejected citing her freedom of expression. Even so, the university rushed to distance itself from tweet which it claimed did not represent what the institution stood for.
Professor Uju’s intervention is just one of several from aggrieved citizens of Britain’s former colonies who have ceased the opportunity of the Queen’s death to draw attention to the well-documented atrocities perpetrated under British rule. In South Africa, another video of the leaders of the opposition Julius Malema is also trending. Like, Uju, he sees no need for any African to mourn the Queen. He has instead called for reparations and the return of items looted from the colonies.
In Kenya were the young Princess Elizabeth first learnt she would be a Queen following the sudden death of her father, the Irish Times reported that reactions to her demise were also mixed. While the country’s leaders were swift in offering their condolences, the feeling was not shared by younger Kenyans who exhibited noticeable detachment.
Many also shared their resentments on the legacy of British colonial rule and what it represented to Kenyans on the social media. They recalled that it was during the Queen’s reign that British soldiers committed unspeakable crimes against Kenyan freedom fighters at the height of Mau Mau uprising between 1952 and 1960.
Over a million people were forced into concentration camps and subjected to torture, rape and other violations. But that was not all. The British also went to great lengths to destroy and conceal official records of their brutal crackdowns.
In India, the story was also similar. Just hours before news of the Queen filtered through to over a billion of his countrymen and women, PM Narendra Modi attended a ceremony in New Delhi to rename a boulevard that once bore the name of the Queen’s father King George V. In renaming the boulevard Modi declared in his speech that the former was a symbol of slavery.
He told Indians in his speech that in renaming the boulevard “Rajpath”, a new history was being created for his country in stark departure from its colonial past. To millions of younger Indians, the Queen represented a legacy whose time has passed. To them, the Queen’s death hardly resonated because the monarchy is an anachronistic in the dynamics of the modern era.
The sentiment was shared by many notable Indians. Kapil Komireddi the author of “Malevolent Republic: A Short History of New India” was of the opinion that the British monarchy is of zero relevance to his country today emphasizing that they are of no importance in the context of modern-day India. India, he concluded, is now a rising power which the British also stand to gain a lot from while dispensing with the old paternal mentality which previously defined the relationships between Britain and its former colonies.
Numerous videos share on the social media alleged that the British pilfered resources in excess of 45 trillion dollars from India including the famous 106-carat Koh-i-Noor diamond which many insist should be returned to its original owners.
But on the whole, the overwhelming feeling is reflected in the collective desire by Indians to move on from their colonial past while not forgetting the unpleasant legacy associated with it. And the lessons of history certainly dictates that it may be the only pragmatic path forward for many nations in Asia and Africa with a colonial past including Nigeria.
The Queen is dead and will soon be buried after all. Her subjects have already moved on in spite of her demise. They have adopted “God save the king” as their new anthem and to also celebrate the ascendance of her son to the throne. What do Africans like Uju stand to profit when they remain fixated on a past they cannot change by remaining rooted in the past?
Since the beginning of time, the world has been in perpetual evolution. History is replete with accounts of empires that were once thought to be invincible. Indeed, before the British, there were countless other empires who similar ravaged their dominions with equal savagery. The Romans were once here in case we have forgotten. And so were the Mongolians, the Persians and the Ottomans.
The Macedonians also defined their era, as did the Byzantines and the Achaemenid empire, along with the Qing and Yuan dynasties. From their ashes have emerged all of the prosperous nations we hold in awe today. And that realism in itself is instructive.
Imagine how and where America would be today if their citizens had remained pre-occupied with how their war of independence from the British was fought; or which potentate supported the Unionists, or the Confederates in their civil war, and also continued to nurse their scars with vengeance instead of building their nation!
Let me make a few points abundantly clear. Victims of British colonial rule, are within their rights to seek for full accountability from those who ravaged and stole from their commonwealth. I am a full believer on the need for reparations if we can get our acts together. But the poignant lessons of history are useful only to the extent that we internalize and act on its critical learning points.
We learn nothing from perpetual brooding about a nasty past. When we waste energy lamenting our colonial past, we become distracted on how to undo its negative consequences through the development and implementation of the requisite strategies with the poise, vision, and pragmatism they require. A heart filled with hate is inherently susceptible to costly miscalculations. It is profoundly incapable of rational thinking.
And that is precisely where the tweet from Professor Uju Anya completely missed the point in my opinion. The British may be as guilty as sin for the crimes they committed in their former colonies; but to hold the Queen personally accountable for the crushing defeat of a breakaway Republic which sought to profit from the truncation of a legitimate democratic government meticulously put in place by the British in the fading days of their cherished empire, is a stretch.
While her tweet has no doubt drawn global attention to the brutal reality of the British colonial era, she misfired in burying the narrative in the context of the Nigeria-Biafra war, especially as there are enough blames to share among all the contending parties.