The Commonwealth: Crown and colony in the twenty-first century
September 26, 2016
Prince Harry alongside members of the Jamaican Defence Force in Kingston, Jamaica
Recently Kensington Palace announced that Prince Harry will be visiting a number of Caribbean islands in November on behalf of the Queen to coincide with their independence anniversary celebrations.
Albeit hollow tokenism; a publicity move on the part of the palace – last time Harry visited the Caribbean was a high profile affair which saw the fun-loving prince (as he has come to be characterised, William being the more serious older brother) take part in a race with superstar Usain Bolt – there is something deeply uncomfortable and disconcerting about the planned tour and what it signifies.
Essentially the royal visit will revive the very colonial ties that these islands are celebrating freedom from, and so it is wholly inappropriate in its very nature and certainly the timing.
The somewhat ironically named Commonwealth (given the extreme disparities in wealth and development between its members) is increasingly being looked at critically by some of its members as an outdated system where the terms of exchange are unfavourable.
Barbados may prove a challenging stop-off for Harry given that last year its government declared that they wanted Queen Elizabeth II removed as their head of state by the end of November this year and to become a republic.
Last year when David Cameron visited Jamaica he found that it was not all welcomes and smiles when Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and some protesters raised the matter of reparations for slavery and its enduring harmful legacy on the nation and its people.
Given that David Cameron and certain members of the British Royal Family are – unsurprisingly, given their belonging to the upper class which thrived directly as a result of slavery – distantly related to slave owners (yesterday it was published that Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie are ‘related to a major slave trader who owned more than 1,000 people across plantations in the Caribbean’), having these figures make public visits to the Caribbean seems more an insult than an honour; an unpleasant reminder of the shameful reason that a relationship was forged between the nations hundreds of years ago.
These royal visits to member states of the Commonwealth, and the association itself, increasingly seem archaic remnants of a past world in which empire and slavery were the order of the day. Surely true independence for these countries will only exist when these symbolic remains of colonialism disappear.
Reparations for slavery and its devastating and continued effects, or even just some acknowledgement that throughout history Britain’s relationship with the Caribbean has been an exploitative one, from the British royal family and government would be a
genuine and meaningful gesture of intent to see these countries and their people fulfil their full potential and stand level with the ‘mother country’ on the world stage but when will that happen?