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Under a new King, the British Monarchy is grappling with ways to ease its relations with former colonies demanding recognition and reparation for imperial abuses.

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On Tuesday, Britain’s King Charles III and Queen Camilla began a state visit to Kenya, a former British colony where more and more people are demanding an apology for the UK’s past in the country.

After being received by the Kenyan presidential couple, William and Rachel Ruto, Charles III, dressed in a blue striped suit with a red poppy, and Camilla, in a white dress, paid a symbolic visit to the “Uhuru Gardens” (“uhuru” meaning “freedom” in Swahili) in the capital Nairobi.

The sovereign laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier in the place where the Kenyan flag was hoisted in December 1963 in place of the British Union Jack.

This four-day visit, coming not long before Kenya celebrates 60 years of independence in December, is Charles III’s first as King in a Commonwealth country. The British embassy said in a statement that the trip is intended to “underline the strong and dynamic partnership between the UK and Kenya”.

But according to Buckingham Palace the visit by Charles, 74, and Queen Camilla, 76, will also provide an opportunity to recall “the most painful aspects of the shared history of the United Kingdom and Kenya” in the years leading up to independence from the British Empire. And one particular incident stands out.

Between 1952 and 1960, more than 10,000 people were killed during the Mau Mau revolt against colonial rule, one of the single bloodiest repressions in British imperial history. Thirty-two colonists were also killed.

‘Unequivocal apology’

The NGO Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) on Sunday called on the King on behalf of the British government “to make an unconditional and unequivocal public apology… for the brutal and inhuman treatment inflicted on Kenyan citizens throughout the colonial period”, an era spanning 1895-1963.

The KHRC also demanded reparations “for all atrocities committed against different groups in the country”.

After years of litigation, London agreed in 2013 to compensate more than 5,000 Kenyans who were victims of abuse during the Mau Mau insurrection.

At the time, Foreign Secretary William Hague expressed Britain’s “sincere regrets”.

Simson Mwangi, a delivery driver in Nairobi, told AFP that “the negative impacts of colonisation are still felt today, they are passed down from generation to generation, it is right that the King should apologise to begin the healing process”.

But for chef Maureen Nkatha, “it’s time to move on”.

“We are now an independent country… It’s embarrassing to keep asking the British to pay us for the wrongs done when we want to be treated as independents,” says the 33-year-old.

Economic partners

As things stand today, Kenya and the United Kingdom are privileged economic partners, with bilateral trade worth around £1.2 billion (€1.375 billion) annually by the end of March 2023.

After state visits to Germany and then France, marking London’s desire to forge closer ties with its European allies, Charles is turning his attention to the Commonwealth.

This vestige of the British Empire, which brings together 56 countries, most of them former British colonies, has been challenged by growing criticism of the United Kingdom’s colonial past.

Other visits by members of the Royal Family to former colonies have caused a stir. In the Caribbean last year, Prince William and Kate were called upon to apologise for the UK’s slave-owning past.

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