- By Cecilia Macaulay
- BBC News
Queen Elizabeth II is said to have had a special place in her heart for Africa, and she was on the continent at some key times in her life.
Then-Princess Elizabeth was staying at the now-closed Treetops Hotel in a rural part of Kenya, surrounded by greenery, tall trees and wildlife, when her father, King George VI, died and that she became queen at just 25 years old.
During her 70-year reign, she visited more than 20 African countries and once jokingly remarked to a smiling Nelson Mandela that she had visited more Africa than “almost anyone”, sparking uproars. delighted laughter from those around him.
The Queen had a warm personal relationship with Mandela – the South African icon who led the fight against white minority rule in the country. His foundation expressed sadness at his death saying, “They also spoke to each other frequently on the phone, using their first names with each other as a sign of mutual respect as well as affection.”
He even had a special name for the queen, Motlalepula, which “literally means come with rain”, as her visit to the country in 1995 during her presidency coincided with welcome rain.
Having inherited a vast empire spanning the African continent upon becoming queen, her reign saw all 14 British African colonies gain independence, starting with Ghana in 1957.
And yet, the queen managed to maintain warm relations with them, in part thanks to the creation of the successor organization to the empire, the Commonwealth. In 1961, she was photographed dancing with Kwame Nkrumah, who led the campaign for Ghana’s independence and became its first president.
Notably, the word empire was omitted during his coronation oath in 1953.
Now leaders across the continent have paid tribute to Britain’s monarch and parts of the longest-serving Commonwealth.
The president of the country where her journey as queen began, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, mourned her passing in a statement, describing her as “a towering icon of selfless service to humanity and a figurehead not only of the Kingdom United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Nations of which Kenya is a prominent member but the whole world”.
Although relations between Zimbabwe and the UK were frosty for many years, prompting the late President Robert Mugabe to withdraw from the Commonwealth, his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa was quick to tweet that his “sincere condolences” went to the Royal Family and “to the people of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth”.
The leader of Nigeria, the largest of the former British colonies in Africa, Muhammadu Buhari wrote a long tribute to him on Twitter, saying he learned of his death with “tremendous sadness”.
“The history of modern Nigeria will never be complete without a chapter on Queen Elizabeth II, a towering global personality and an outstanding leader. She dedicated her life to making her nation, the Commonwealth and the whole world a better place. “
He also welcomed the accession to the throne of His Majesty King Charles III.
And Ali Bongo, president of the Commonwealth’s newest member Gabon, a former French colony that only joined the club in June, also tweeted his condolences.
Despite the outpouring of condolences from the continent’s leaders, some other Africans spoke of their suffering under British rule, pointing out that much of the colonization was done in the name of the royal family.
Some of Africa’s monarchs have also expressed their sadness. Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi paid tribute on behalf of King Misuzulu KaZwelithini, leader of the Zulu people of South Africa. He underlined his “precious friendship” with King Charles III, sending him his personal condolences.
King Misuzulu is well placed to understand what King Charles is going through, as his own father, Zwelithini, died last year, after 50 years on the throne.
The Queen was on tour in South Africa when she celebrated her 21st birthday in 1947. In a famous radio address from Cape Town, she dedicated her life to the Commonwealth and said she felt “equally at home” in South Africa as if she had lived there all her life.
Recognized worldwide for her ability to remain apolitical, she made a strong statement in 1995, visiting South Africa just a year after Mandela became president, ending the system of legalized racism known as ‘apartheid.
She praised the country for its progress: “You have become a nation whose spirit of reconciliation is a shining example to the world, and I have come back to see for myself what is almost a miracle.