By Muneyi Zavare and Dr Masimba Mavaza. | The dark cloud hoovered on the British empire in September 2022 when the hand of death snatched the Queen from the Mother Earth. This was the death of the longest serving British Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, a woman so revered by many across what is left of the empire and its Commonwealth of former colonies. Such was the popularity of the late monarch that an estimated 5.1 billion people watched the queen’s funeral across the world. Of course, others out of suppressed loathing as they regarded her as a symbol and figure head of the British establishment oppression.
However how one viewed the Queen, it would be factual to say that she was the apex of British diplomacy, with an excellent ability to welcome and accept all manner of individuals with diversified characters, be it Idi Amin from Uganda, Chile’s General Pinochet, Donald Trump from the USA or any leader the British establishment wanted to charm and do business with. Give it to Queen Elizabeth, she would make anyone feel like they were on Mount Elbrus or Everest for those of European origins and the real world’s tallest mountain measured from base to top, which is Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, Africa, for the rest of us. The Queen became Europe’s most important monarchy with an influence covering all continents of the world. The British had an empire in which the ‘sun never set’, they proudly boasted.
The Queen’s Sun Set
Through Elizabeth the Second’s diplomatic skills, Britain managed to appear as a decent former colonial master and partner to many countries, especially in the Commonwealth. That was until when her inevitable ‘sun’ set arrived on the 8th of September 2022 during her annual stay at her favourite Balmoral Castle in Scotland. With her passing, it appears the British lost their sense of respect, a golden touch in managing international relations. Otherwise, how else can one explain the manner in which some world leaders were treated leading to and at the funeral of Elizabeth II.
Enter the buses of ‘shame’
It is not an exaggeration to suggest that some Caribbean and African countries leaders are still to recover from the humiliation, embarrassing and shameful manner they were treated with during Queen Elizabeth’s funeral. Images of leaders from these countries inhabited by black people being ferried around in public and community coaches flabbergasted many in the countries they lead. It was almost impossible not to reminiscent about the historical treatment of Kunta Kinte. You could bring a million people from across generations, and all would swear with their ancestors, they had never seen their President Akufo Addo in a Ghana public bus or those in Kenya, their President Ruto grinning with arms resignedly folded.
Often the travels of these leaders is done with glitz, glamour and at times annoyance, with unnecessary drama too. Security vehicles with loud sirens that one can hear from a couple of miles, signal to motorists to pave way or face consequences. Just watch the number of security vehicles surrounding a US president, double that for some African or Caribbean political leaders. And this experience would have been both humbling and torturing to egos.
The Queen’s funeral arrangements brought so much humbling and ridicule in equal measure to leaders from black Commonwealth countries. Most might have wondered what happened to the glorious, comfort filled, warm, respectful reception they previously experienced at Buckingham Palace as the British establishment charmed them for resources and advancement of interests using the late Queen.
The horror faces explained the agony and feelings of these leaders as they travelled across the streets of London bundled in buses. Feigned smiles to the cameras by a few of them were more tellingly as to their embarrassment.
These leaders like any other, often travel with carefully chosen photographers, friendly media people on these international trips. With the sole aim of capturing and projecting an image of revered statesmanship at international stages, back home to their people. Not during September 2022 at the funeral of Elizabeth II. It was troublingly embarrassing and a sign of diplomatic weakness by African and Caribbean leaders.
Coronation of King Charles III
With the coronation of King of Charles III coming less that ten weeks from now on the 6th of May 2023, we can be sure that invitations to attend have long been despatched once again to Commonwealth nations as well as other world leaders. British diplomats’ renown skills of persuasion will be at play, not that they need to use them anyway. As before and always with certainty, many will jump to accept an opportunity to grace the streets of London, hoping it will not be in a public coach again.
But, surely, if officials at Buckingham Palace the King’s official working residence and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office at King Charles 2 offices, London have respect for African and Commonwealth leaders, they would avoid the diplomatic faux pas in their plans. There should not be a repeat of that unequal treatment of African and Caribbean leaders compared to their compatriots from Canada, New Zealand or any European country.
Leaders from the former colonies deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Heads of countries or governments from black Commonwealth countries and their advisers should think twice before they ready themselves to hop into planes to brave the Spring chilling weather of the UK for an English king’s coronation. They are best advised to scrutinise the plans being submitted, know the itinerary very well and how they will be treated at the coronation. Never should they willingly accept being treated like second class citizens.
For these leaders, it is not just their image and dignity at stake, but also that of the billion plus black people they represent. The bus images of September 2022 at the Queen’s funeral should not be witnessed ever again. They must show courage, self-respect and pride, say no to indignity.
If Biden, Macron and Trudeau, USA, France and Canada leaders respectively are to be accorded respect, leaders from the African and Caribbean countries should be allowed to travel around in their vehicles, protected as should be by their security staff and that of the British Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection (PaDP).
Welcome back to London leaders, Hail King Charles III, have grace. Respect!