Special to USAfrica magazine (Houston) and USAfricaonline.com, first Africa-owned, US-based newspaper published on the Internet
Attorney Ken Okorie is an Editorial Board member of USAfrica
On Monday September 19, 2022, the late Queen Elizabeth II was brought to her final place of rest, St. George’s Chapel. This followed a funeral at Westminster Abbey and a set of ceremonies.
Before those, when the announcement of her death was made there were messages of sympathy and condolences to The Royal Family, the United Kingdom, and The Commonwealth of Nations. She supervised the latter. Those are in order.
Celebrating a mother that lived to be 96 years, 70 of them at the helm of a major world power and titular Head of over a dozen nations is also proper and human. However, seeing or promoting only the “positives” of the Queen’s legacy leaves questions. It does not paint the complete picture. It seriously disserves humanity and history.
Much of the past 12 days had the world glued to ceaseless renditions of accolades, praises, and admiration as many mourned. Few figures in our time have attracted such universal feeling of grief or sense of bereavement. In my view, the burial/transition events for Michael Jackson, Princess Diana, Pope John Paul, or Nelson Mandela do not compare to the Queen’s event.
A handful tried to point to her negatives but were dismissed or largely ignored. Now that the Queen is interred, she is part of history, and it may not be too early for a peek at her legacy. To be accurate, such examination cannot be one-sided as the dominant reviews have been. Authority has responsibility.
Serious wrongs were committed in various parts of the world under the Queen’s watch. Some were colonial others post-colonial. Some she inherited, others she supervised. Added to long tenure, trails of atrocities and dehumanization were part of the policies of British governments she supervised. Those too were constants in her legacy.
From Nigeria, to India, to Kenya, to Pakistan, to Iraq, to Iran, to Ghana, to the West Indies, British colonial footprints were far from pretty, deeper and more damaging in some places than others. Remarkably, Britain’s former colonies that are inhabited by mostly Whites (Australia, USA, Canada, New Zealand) were marked differently and more humanely. Asking why merely begs the question!
Beyond atrocious policies during active control of colonies, Britain actively facilitated, promoted, and even participated in, crimes against humanity in some of its former colonies under Second Elizabethan era.
An example is when a part of Nigeria was pushed out through a pogrom of mass killings and displacement of millions. Throngs of families died or became refugees. With nowhere else to go, the victims opted for an independent Republic of Biafra. This occurrence and the massacre that followed in a 30-month brutal war headlined the world over between 1966 and 1970.
The Queen was aware because Britain was at the center of the carnage. In active alliance with Soviet Russia, they equipped federal Nigeria with planes, pilots, armaments, and advisors used to perpetrate genocide in Biafra. Soviet fighters and bombers raided markets, churches, schools, hospitals and other public arena even as British advisors actively guided and worked with federal Nigeria’s military to inflict more carnage on a people whose only crime was wanting to be safe and free in their homeland.
By the time it was over 3 million lives perished. Most were children, from malnutrition and disease.
At a young age, I took cover from those planes; I buried some of the little children. I did not read about the genocide, I experienced it! Through the carnage, the Queen did nothing to stop it.
Biafra was totally blockaded by air, land and sea such that neither food nor medicine was allowed in. Several charities, like The World Council of Churches, The Red Cross, Caritas International, some of which the Queen championed, actively provided food and medical relief and reported the genocide. At great risk to themselves, their Relief planes flew under cover of darkness to drop off needed food and medicine for staving millions. Several pilots and crews paid with their lives.
The Queen had a passion for charities, and had to have known or heard of the genocide in Biafra! One cannot argue that she did not, because, as is the tradition, the British government of Harold Wilson took orders from, and reported to the monarch. Belligerent policies against Biafra were carried out in plain view. Britain’s BBC World Service was major conduit of reportage on the genocide. Thus it cannot be argued that the Queen did not know. She knew or should have known. She never lifted a finger, never said a word, never condemned.
To date, the genocide in Biafra remains swept under the rug, hidden as if it never happened, as if the slaughtered were not human. Yes, it is an unhappy experience whenever any life is lost; the Queen is no exception. But authority and fame go with responsibility. Legacy too must provide for morality. What reason do victims of the genocide and those who lost millions of relatives under her watch have to mourn Queen Elizabeth? One cannot deny that as Queen, she did some good. But it is patently wrong to pretend that all was rosy under her, or excuse her as a figurehead. She was never a figurehead. One statement from her could have saved millions of lives. She chose silence!
The Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church for which the Queen was supreme head, calls for Guidance O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment. Thus, judgment is for God, and that includes for the Queen.
For the living, it is the height of hypocrisy to devalue the lives of millions for political convenience. Casually distancing the Queen from the ugly policies and actions of the British governments she supervised deepens the wounds and perpetuates the wrongs.