When Elizabeth II assumed the throne, in 1952, aged 25 years, she inherited a large empire, comprising colonies and independent countries, Britain had colonised over centuries. However, over the course of her 70-year-long reign that ended with her passing at age 96, the former British empire had reduced to a fraction of its former self, with the queen being the head of 14 Commonwealth realms along with the United Kingdom. While countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, etc, chose the path to become independent republics, these 14 chose to remain constitutional monarchies, with the London-based monarch as the head of the state. The role has now been passed on to her son and heir King Charles III. However, the death of the former monarch has rekindled the republican debate with these former colonies contemplating if this is the time to strip all ties from their colonial past.
One of our own
After confirming King Charles as the head of the state, the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda announced plans to hold a referendum on becoming a republic within three years. Prime minister Gaston Browne announced the plans while emphasising that it was “not an act of hostility” but the “final step to complete the circle of independence to become a truly sovereign nation”.
Last year, Barbados, another Caribbean country, voted to remove Queen Elizabeth II as the head of the state and swore in Sandra Mason as its first president.
Similarly, starting this June, Jamaica started its process of transitioning into a republic. The Caribbean nation is expected to remove the British monarch as the head sometime before its next general election in 2025. Similar calls for republicanism, or complete independence, can also be heard across the Caribbean, Africa, and the Pacific.
Take the case of Australia, whose recently elected PM, Anthony Albanese, is a republican. Just before the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee earlier this year, House of Representatives member Matthew Thistlethwaite was appointed as assistant minister for the republic, which means it was for the first time that a government MP was appointed to make the case for Australia becoming a republic. Not just that, in a poll earlier this year, 54% of Australians voted in favour of their country becoming a republic.
On the other hand, while New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern has reaffirmed her support for her country becoming a republic, she hinted that it is not going to happen any time soon. “I believe it’s likely to occur in my lifetime, but I don’t see it as a short-term measure or anything that is on the agenda anytime soon,” she said, after expressing support for King Charles. Not just that, in a poll last year, just a third of New Zealanders voted in support of a republic.
Other kinds of calls
While the debates over republicanism are profound, other kinds of calls concerning Britain’s colonial past cannot be shunned. While the calls for the British crown to return the famed Kohinoor diamond run galore in India, the same is happening in South Africa over the return of the Great Star of Africa, the largest uncut diamond in the world.
This is the thing. Although the late Queen exhibited the benevolent and gentle face of the British monarch, it could not undo the years of exploitation and pauperisation that the crown meted out to its former subjects across its colonies spanning from Africa and the Caribbean to Asia and the Pacific.
When Prince Williams and his wife Kate visited Jamaica earlier this year, they were greeted with protests and demands for apology and reparations. Similarly, as soon as this August, Nana Akufo-Addo, the president of Ghana, which gained independence from Britain in 1957, called on the European nations to pay reparations to Africa for a slave trade that held back its “economic, cultural and psychological progress.”
Not the same
Although Charles III has become the King long after the decolonisation process, set rolling following World War II, is over, questions loom if he would be able to offer the same face as his mother. Differences are plenty. While Elizabeth assumed the charge at an age of 25, Charles ascended to the top at 73. Also, 1952 was a much different time than 2022, and the Queen did serve as a symbol of stability over several tumultuous years. Then the generational thing also plays in the mix. As demography has shifted across these countries, people tend to connect more with the younger royals than with the one who has assumed the throne. In the end, whoever is the face of the British monarch, stripping off the cruel colonial legacy is a tough job for anybody.