By Ayenat Mersie and Clément Uwiringiyimana
KIGALI (Reuters) – Commonwealth leaders agreed in 2018 that Britain’s Prince Charles should succeed his mother Queen Elizabeth as head of the organization, but as they met again in Rwanda, some member states of the Caribbean was not comfortable with the decision.
The 54-nation club made up mainly of former British colonies bills itself as a partnership of equals and says the British monarch is not automatically its figurehead, but so far the baton has passed from the father from the queen to herself to her son.
“It’s an issue that I think should be looked at,” said Camillo Michael Gonsalves, foreign minister of Belize, one of 12 Commonwealth member states in the Caribbean, a region where postcolonial ties with the Britain are questioned.
In November last year, Barbados relinquished the Queen as head of state, with Charles standing somberly present as the royal standard was lowered in Bridgetown. Since then, Jamaica has signaled that it may soon follow suit.
Both nations remain members of the Commonwealth.
Caribbean ministers who spoke to Reuters on the sidelines of the Kigali summit said they had no problem with Charles as a person, but were uncomfortable with the symbolism of a royal succession .
Courtenay said that with the former French colonies of Gabon and Togo set to join the Commonwealth, it made even less sense for leadership to pass from one British monarch to another.
Camillo Michael Gonsalves, finance minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said this contradicted the Commonwealth’s claim to be a modern multinational institution.
“You don’t find that in any other major diplomatic corps. And I think that’s a mistake that perpetuates some of the very unfortunate history of the Commonwealth,” he said.
He was referring to Britain’s imperialist past and its role in the slave trade, painful legacies that tend to be glossed over at Commonwealth meetings.
“WE SLIP ON THIS”
“It’s hard to fathom that we were designed as a grouping with this common bond of colonialism and exploitation and ignore it,” he said.
More than 10 million Africans were chained in the Atlantic slave trade by European nations between the 15th and 19th centuries. Those who survived the brutal journey ended up working on plantations in the Caribbean and the Americas.
“Through the work of our ancestors…these (slave trade) countries developed wealth. I think it’s time there was some form of compensation for what we suffered as slaves during colonial times,” said Philip J. Pierre, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia.
Gonsalves said the Commonwealth summit should address the issue of reparations.
“We need to use entities like the Commonwealth to move this conversation forward. Caribbean countries will certainly discuss this in closed meetings, but I think it’s something that should be on the agenda.”
Calls for reparations from Britain have grown in recent years, including from Jamaican activists who demonstrated in Kingston during a recent visit by Charles’ son Prince William and his wife Kate.
William later acknowledged that the tour had “brought to light questions about the past and the future”.
“Who the Commonwealth chooses to lead their family in the future is not what I think,” William said, the only public comment from a senior royal alluding to questions being raised over the succession of the Commonwealth.
“What matters to us is the potential of the Commonwealth family to create a better future for the people who make it up.”
(Writing by Estelle Shirbon and Ayenat Mersie; Editing by Alison Williams)