'Colonialism wasn’t the Queen’s fault': Our Observers react to Elizabeth II's death

·6-min read
© AP

As the world reacted to the death of Queen Elizabeth II, our Observers in Commonwealth countries that were once British colonies had mixed reactions. While many said the British monarch played little a role in their day-to-day thoughts in the 21st century, her death brought out feelings that endure decades after the end of the British Empire.

Fiji: 'There’s a lot of respect for her here'

Fiji, in the South Pacific, was a British colony from 1874 until independence in 1970, with the British monarch as its head of state. Dr. Antoine N’yeurt, marine biologist at the University of the South Pacific says the Queen will be fondly remembered.

Fiji is a Commonwealth country, and until only a few years ago we had the Queen on our banknotes and our coins. So there’s a very strong link between Fiji and the British monarchy.

It’s the end of an era. She was Queen since I was born. Most Fijians alive today were born after she acceded to the throne. There’s a sense of loss and of times changing, because she provided a sense of constancy. She was always there, like a permanent fixture. It’s hard now to imagine a world without the Queen. Now it’s time to accept King Charles III.

The Queen visited in 1953 on a tour a few months after her coronation. There was a lot of excitement here in Fiji when she visited. Her death will be a big shock, especially to older people. There’s a lot of respect for her here in Fiji.

Nigeria: 'Colonialism wasn’t the Queen’s fault'

Nigeria was a British colony from the mid-19th century until independence in 1960. Elizabeth was Queen of Nigeria for three years, until the abolition of the short-lived Nigerian monarchy in 1963, and the institution of the presidency.

Kingsley Odion, a psychology graduate in the Nigerian capital Abuja says many of his compatriots have mixed feelings about the Queen.

A lot of Nigerians believe that Queen Elizabeth’s reign brought a lot of bad things to us: our religion and our culture were highly influenced both positively and negatively by British colonialism. That has caused a lot of bad feelings in Nigeria: people believe British rule had no respect for Nigerian culture or ethnic diversity.

The British came into Africa and swept our way of life under the carpet. A lot of Nigerians including myself feel bad about that. But colonialism wasn’t the Queen’s fault. This feeling is not toward the Queen, but to Britain, the country that colonised Nigeria. It’s not about the Queen, but the entire British system.

We shouldn’t forget that Nigeria got independence during her rule. I believe there would not have been an independent Nigeria if not for her rule.

Online, many Nigerians linked the Queen to Britain’s century-long colonisation of Nigeria. Others referred to tensions that led Prince Harry and his black American wife Meghan Markle to step away from their royal duties in 2020. Markle told interviewer Oprah Winfrey that the family had not adequately defended her from racist attacks in the press, and said an unnamed royal had expressed concern that the prince’s child might have a dark complexion.

Many Nigerians reacted on social media to comments made by Uju Anya, a Nigerian-born US professor who tweeted as the Queen was dying: “May her pain be excruciating.” After Twitter removed the initial tweet, the professor explained that she saw the Queen as the head of a government that had supported massacres in Nigeria.

Cameroon: 'Why feel bad that the Queen died?'

Lesley Bongajum, an entrepreneur from Buea, Cameroon, was visiting the UK at the time of the Queen’s death. Cameroon was colonised by Germany, then divided between France and Britain. It was one of just two members of the Commonwealth that the Queen did not visit during her 70-year reign.

I was in a church in Southwark for a book launch about African entrepreneurs when we got the news. The book launch was just about to start when the parish priest came in and announced: “The Queen has died.” First I was upset that the book launch was cancelled. But then I looked around the church and saw the candles lit for the Queen, and I felt bad. I remembered that I’m the beneficiary of a scholarship from the UK government. And just a few months ago we were celebrating her jubilee back home in Cameroon.

Today I expressed my deep condolences for the Queen to my Cameroonian friends. One of my friends said “WTF? Why do you feel pity? Why should you feel bad that the Queen died? These are the people that caused all the problems in Cameroon, like the anglophone crisis, the civil war that’s going on between French-speaking Cameroonians and English-speaking ones.”

The anglophones in Cameroon care more about the Queen than the French-speakers. The Queen represents a lot to anglophone Cameroonians, especially when it comes to culture. During the Jubilee, anglophone mothers were telling their daughters to learn to dress well like the British royals.

In Douala, Cameroon's economic capital, Muller Nandou Tenkeu, an entrepreneur turning vegetable waste into cooking fuel, said people were following her death closely.

People liked the Queen a lot around Douala. There are two regions in Cameroon that are English-speaking and are loyal to the British Crown. That's why Cameroon is part of the Commonwealth. I learned a lot about the Queen's death from our tabloids.

I do have some criticisms of her though. She could have done more for the refugees in Cameroon, Nigeria, Liberia, Sudan and Ethiopia. She had a huge fortune.

Canada: 'Not always positive'

In Canada, one of the 15 countries where Elizabeth was monarch, our Observer Kyra Kilabuk, an Inuit activist active on TikTok, said many indigenous Canadians associated the Queen with decades of abuse and discrimination perpetrated against them during her reign.

The news of the Queen’s death to me feels a bit mixed in a sense. Of course when you hear of anyone dying, you feel remorse and sadness during a hard time like that. I feel for her family and for those who were close to her and send my love to them.

To me, the Queen’s death is a pivotal point where change will come. When you look at the way her life was as a queen, more specifically towards indigenous people, there wasn’t always a positive aspect included in that. Nevertheless this is a sad time, which I hope will bring change that is needed, and bring families together.

Other indigenous activists were more critical. “Today we mourn all the stolen, violated, and traumatized lives who were affected and destroyed during Queen Elizabeth II’s reign,” reads one message posted by an indigenous collective on Instagram. “Today is a brutal reminder that war criminals will be honoured while entire populations and societies bear the battle scars of colonial genocide, invasion, religious persecution, and white supremacy.”