HomeWorld NewsPrince Charles expresses sadness over slavery in Commonwealth speech

Prince Charles expresses sadness over slavery in Commonwealth speech

  • Commonwealth leaders gather for Kigali summit
  • Charles alludes to colonialism, slavery in speech
  • Rwanda’s Kagame talks about ‘reimagining’ the Commonwealth
  • Members vote to keep Patricia Scotland as second generation

KIGALI, June 24 (Reuters) – Britain’s Prince Charles expressed deep sadness over slavery in a speech to Commonwealth leaders in Rwanda on Friday and acknowledged the organization’s roots lie in a painful period in history.

The Commonwealth, a club of 54 countries from the British Empire, encompasses around a third of humanity and presents itself as a network of equal partners, but some member states have called for a reckoning with the colonial past. Read more

“I want to acknowledge that the roots of our contemporary association run deep into the most painful period in our history,” Charles told Commonwealth leaders gathered at the opening ceremony of a two-day summit in Kigali.

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“I cannot describe the depth of my personal grief at the suffering of so many as I continue to deepen my own understanding of the lasting impact of slavery.”

Britain and other European nations enslaved over 10 million Africans between the 15th and 19th centuries and transported them across the Atlantic to work on plantations in the Caribbean and the Americas. Many died on the way.

Members of the Commonwealth include West African countries such as Nigeria and Ghana, where slaves were captured, and 12 Caribbean countries where they spent the rest of their lives.

The Commonwealth has never publicly attacked the legacy of slavery. Some Caribbean ministers have called for discussing this, including the issue of reparations, which Charles did not mention.

“If we are to forge a shared future that benefits all of our citizens, we too must find new ways to acknowledge our past. Quite simply, this is a conversation whose time has come,” Charles said.

Several delegates said Charles’ remarks were a welcome acknowledgment of past suffering, but added that the focus should be on the future.

“We are not here to go into dark history. We want to see how we move forward,” said Liberata Mulamula, Tanzania’s foreign minister.

NEW ENTRANTS

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, whose country joined the Commonwealth in 2009, offered a different perspective in his own speech to the assembled leaders, before Charles took the floor.

“Holding this meeting in Rwanda, a new member with no historical connection to the British Empire, expresses our choice to continue to reinvent the Commonwealth for a changing world,” he said.

The summit will consider applications from the former French colonies of Togo and Gabon to join the Commonwealth, a sign of disenchantment with France’s sphere of influence in Africa and the lures of an English-speaking club. Read more

The summit brings together 29 heads of state and government. The other 25 member states, including South Africa, India, Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand, sent delegations led by ministers or diplomats.

Member states voted to keep Patricia Scotland as secretary-general after some countries, including Britain, tried to replace her with Kamina Johnson Smith, Jamaica’s foreign minister. Scotland, which has weathered multiple scandals since taking office in 2016, will serve another two years. Read more

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Written by Estelle Shirbon, editing by William Maclean, Gareth Jones, Alex Richardson and Nick Macfie

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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