June 10, 2023
Prince Charles

Prince Charles

Better late than never. That was the general reaction to Prince Charles’ opening speech at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali on Friday.

The prince will succeed his mother as head of the organization — an association of independent states that emerged out of the ashes of the British Empire. That empire will forever be associated with slavery, and Prince Charles made it clear in his opening remarks that he wants to change the status quo and begin a dialogue about it.

“While we strive together for peace, prosperity and democracy I want to acknowledge that the roots of our contemporary association run deep into the most painful period of our history,” he told delegates. “I cannot describe the depths of my personal sorrow at the suffering of so many, as I continue to deepen my own understanding of slavery’s enduring impact.”

Those delegates coming out after the speech appeared moved and heartened by the prince’s words. A more resounding “sorry” would have suited some better but that would open the way for reparation claims and that’s a government issue, not one for the monarchy.

Charles said the Commonwealth needs to “find new ways to acknowledge our past. Quite simply, this is a conversation whose time has come. Your Excellencies, conversations start with listening.”

Yusuf Keketoma Sandi was part of the Sierra Leone delegation. Tens of thousands of Africans were kidnapped and brought to Sierra Leone, to be traded and put on slave ships bound for the Americas. It later became a British colony.

He told us: “Slavery has not been part of the conversation, so the fact that we have the prince today talking about slavery and to see how we want to start that conversation… Sierra Leone is looking forward to that and we hope that when it starts he will pay a visit to Sierra Leone and go and see some of the scars left in Sierra Leone.”

There are still 15 countries that have Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. Barbados only replaced her with a locally appointed president last year. The Prime Minister of Jamaica voiced the desire to do the same a few months ago.

In Kigali, Charles made clear he would not stand in the way of countries cutting ties with the monarchy. He said: “The Commonwealth contains within it countries that have had constitutional relationships with my family, some that continue to do so, and increasingly those that have had none. I want to say clearly, as I have said before, that each member’s constitutional arrangement, as republic or monarchy, is purely a matter for each member country to decide.”

The scars of slavery run deep across the planet. It couldn’t be a more sensitive subject. Royals may have shied away from it in the past but Prince Charles now wants to talk about it and he wants the Commonwealth to be the platform. He wants to be part of the solution instead of a symbol of the problem.

Charles and UK Prime Minister avoid awkward run-in during Rwanda trip.

Speculation has been rife in the past few days of possible tensions between Prince Charles and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson’s government is pressing ahead with a policy to send some asylum seekers arriving in the UK to Rwanda for processing and possible resettlement. British newspaper the Times reported that the royal had described the plan as “appalling.”

With a bilateral meeting between the two on the fringes of the Commonwealth leaders’ summit in Kigali in the cards on Friday, British media were watching to see if any of the reported tension was visible. However, hours before the event, Johnson made it clear that any conversation he might have with Charles would remain private.

“I wouldn’t comment on anything that I say to the Queen or the Queen says to me. Nor will I say anything about what the heir to the throne might say to me or what I might say to him. And that’s never happened and Prime Ministers never talk about that and quite rightly,” Johnson told reporters on Friday morning.

For its part, Clarence House said it won’t be commenting on any supposed remarks except to say the prince is politically neutral.

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