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Queen Elizabeth II and Africa: A long-standing relationship

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By Cecilia Macaulay

BBC News

The Queen dancing with former Ghanaian president Kwame NkrumahImage source, Getty Images

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Queen Elizabeth was pictured dancing with former Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah in 1961 at a ball in Accra

The then-Princess Elizabeth was lodging at the now-closed Treetops Hotel in a rural part of Kenya, surrounded by greenery, tall trees and wildlife, when her father, King George VI, died and she became Queen aged just 25.

During Queen Elizabeth II’s 70-year reign she visited more than 20 African countries, and once jokingly remarked in front of a smiling Nelson Mandela that she had been to more of Africa than “almost anybody”, prompting rapturous laughter from those around her.

Having inherited a vast empire spanning the African continent upon becoming Queen, her reign saw all 14 African British colonies gain their independence, starting with Ghana in 1957.

The Queen managed to maintain warm relations with them, partly through the creation of the successor organisation to the empire, the Commonwealth. In 1961, she was pictured dancing with Kwame Nkrumah, who led the campaign for Ghana’s independence and became its first president.

Notably, the word empire was omitted during her coronation oath in 1953.

Now, leaders from across the continent have paid tribute to Britain’s and parts of the Commonwealth’s longest-serving monarch.

The president of the country where her journey as Queen started, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, mourned her passing in a statement, describing her as “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”.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

In 1983, the Queen revisited the Treetops Hotel in Kenya, where she became Queen after the death of her father

Although relations between Zimbabwe and the UK have been frosty for many years, prompting the late President Robert Mugabe to withdraw from the Commonwealth, his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa was quick to tweet that his “deepest condolences” were with the Royal Family and “the people of the United Kingdom, and the Commonwealth”.

The leader of Nigeria, the biggest of Britain’s former colonies in Africa, Muhammadu Buhari wrote a long tribute to her on Twitter, saying he learnt of her death with “immense sadness”.

“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 also welcomed the ascension of His Majesty, King Charles III to the throne.

And Ali Bongo, president of the newest member of the Commonwealth, Gabon, a former French colony which only joined the club in June, has also tweeted his condolences.

Despite the outpouring of condolences from the continent’s leaders, some other Africans have spoken of their suffering under British rule, pointing out that much of the colonisation was done in the name of the royal family.

Some of Africa’s own monarchs have also expressed their sadness. Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi paid his respects on behalf of King Misuzulu KaZwelithini, the leader of South Africa’s Zulu people. He highlighted his “treasured friendship” with King Charles III, sending personal condolences to him.

King Misuzulu is well placed to understand what King Charles is going through, as his own father, Zwelithini, died last year, after 50 years on the throne.

The Queen has a long history with South Africa, and was on a tour there when she celebrated her 21st birthday in 1947. In a radio address from Cape Town, she dedicated her life to Commonwealth and said she felt “just as much at home” in South Africa as if she had lived there her whole life.

Renowned around the world for her ability to remain apolitical, but she made a strong statement in 1995, visiting South Africa just a year after the end of decades of white-minority rule in the country.

She complimented the country on its progress: “You have become one nation whose spirit of reconciliation is a shining example to the world, and I have come back to see for myself what is little short of a miracle.”

The Queen had a warm personal relationship with Nelson Mandela. His foundation expressed its sadness and said: “They also talked on the phone frequently, using their first names with each other as a sign of mutual respect as well as affection.”

The statement added that Mr Mandela had a special name for the Queen: “Motlalepula, which literally means to come with rain” because her 1995 visit coincided with some welcome rain.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

The Queen is reported to have had a warm friendship with Nelson Mandela, with whom she is pictured here in Cape Town in 1995

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Outpouring of sympathy across the Commonwealth

Countries throughout the Commonwealth have shared their condolences and memories of Queen Elizabeth II. From world leaders to those on the street, people reflected on her legacy.The Commonwealth is made up of 56 independent countries, in Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Pacific.

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