The passing of Queen Elizabeth II

YESTERDAY, marking the departure of quite an era, the remains of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, were committed to mother earth at St. George’s Chapel within the grounds of Windsor Castle, about 20 miles outside London, a site housing 10 former sovereigns.  Elizabeth II had breathed her last on September 8  at her Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. At her committal, the King of Arms proclaimed the mood of the nation and millions of the Queen’s subjects around the world: “Thus it hath pleased Almighty God to take out of this transitory life unto His divine mercy the late most high, most mighty, and most excellent monarch,  Elizabeth the Second, by the grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, and Sovereign of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.”

Dozens of world leaders and Heads of State converged on London to pay their final respects to the Queen. As confirmed by Buckingham Palace, nearly 200 members of the public who were recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours were invited to the funeral. Prior to the funeral, throngs of people stormed the UK from around the world in honour of the UK’s longest reigning monarch, creating a carnival-like atmosphere. And like leaders around the world, African leaders also mourned the monarch, recalling her special relationship with the African continent: the then Princess Elizabeth celebrated her 21st birthday in Cape Town, South Africa, in April 1947, where she made a speech vowing to devote her life to the peoples of Britain and the Commonwealth, and it was in a Kenyan hotel in February 1952 that she learnt of the passing of her father, King George VI, and her elevation.

According to President Muhammadu Buhari, the story of modern Nigeria will never be complete without a chapter on Queen Elizabeth ll, a towering global personality and an outstanding leader. “She dedicated her life to making her nation, the Commonwealth and the entire world a better place,”  he said, adding that she was a towering global personality who continued to be recognised as Head of State for three years after Nigeria’s independence in 1960. His South African counterpart, Cyril Ramaphosa, expressed “profound and sincere condolences” to Britain’s new monarch, King Charles III, describing Queen Elizabeth II as “an extraordinary and world-renowned public figure who lived a remarkable life”.

To be sure, the passing of Queen Elizabeth II at the ripe age of 96 is an epochal event. It came after 70 years on the throne and represents the departure of an iconic and respected monarch who managed to define her times and affect the world during her reign. It is to her credit that in spite of the loss of the prestige of her earlier world-dominating empire, she managed to retain the respect of many in the world, especially by serving as the rallying point for the Commonwealth of Nations, the grouping of former British colonies and dominions, even as she was an effective stabilising force at home over the fluctuations of governmental machinery and world politics. Indeed, the fact that countries like Russia sent condolences  is a reflection of the goodwill that the Queen enjoyed till her demise.

Yet, it is impossible not to call attention to the crude and negative legacies of slavery and colonialism through which a vast section of the world population was devastated and imperiled by British overlordship. That is why the Queen’s recent demise elicited quite ambivalent responses from sections of the public. For the British establishment and officialdom in general, this is a moment of national mourning, indeed a moment of national reflection, on the future of both the country and the crown. Elsewhere, however, particularly the ex-colonies, many are not necessarily enamoured by the Queen’s sweet memories. They are justifiably reminded of the iron fists of the colonial government around their necks and the colossal robbery which it still represents because their artefacts are in British museums. Truth be told, colonialism by the British empire and its cohorts around the world represented the worst form of plunder, human abuse and degradation from which these former empires, largely due to leperous leadership, have yet to fully disentangle themselves.

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