'History never disappears': Will King Charles grasp the importance of his visit to Kenya?

King Charles III’s visit to Kenya will start tomorrow, Tuesday 31 October. The King and the Queen will be in the country for four days. A State Visit with many challenges ahead.

King Charles Royal Family Kenya History Colonialism
© Max Mumby/Indigo / GETTY IMAGES
King Charles Royal Family Kenya History Colonialism

After a state visit to France in September 2023, King Charles and the Queen will continue their state visits in Kenya. This trip, which will last only 4 days, will take place between 31 October and 3 November.

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For King Charles this will be his first visit there as King after going to Kenya in 1971 as Prince of Wales. In the press release published by the Palace on 11 October, it is noted that King Charles only makes the visit after being invited by the Kenyan President as the country prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of their independence from the British.

This trip is sure to be a tricky one for King Charles as he will have to face History.

King Charles’ plan for his state visit to Kenya

In their press release, Buckingham Palace writes:

The visit (...) will celebrate the warm relationship between the two countries and the strong and dynamic partnership they continue to forge.

Moreover, this trip has been openly announced as an event during which the new monarch will address and confront the UK’s colonial past. Indeed, Kenya was a part of the British Colonial Empire until it gained independence in December 1963. Still in the press release, King Charles is said to take an opportunity to ‘ deepen his understanding of the wrongs suffered in this period by the people of Kenya.’

However, it is unsure whether that will satisfy everyone. As the trip approaches, many activists and people are calling for a clearer gesture from the King.

History coming to haunt King Charles

Since the announcement of the State Visit, many articles have been written highlighting its challenges. One of the most striking one is in The Guardian. Harvard University professor Caroline Elkins writes an opinion piece that is filled with both clear historical facts and advice for the new monarch.

Her strongest piece of advice is for King Charles to apologise. She writes:

First, King Charles III, you need to stop choking on those two words, “I apologise”. Just cough them up.


Global demands for a British colonial reckoning suggest you need to abandon your paternalistic ways, apologise, and offer repair for the colonial crimes committed in your family’s name.

Reuters also published an article on 30 September which gives voice to the West Kenyan population which still suffers the aftermath of colonialism. In this article, it is clear that these communities are asking for financial compensation from King Charles after they lost their land to tea companies because of the British invasion.

We will end with an article by AP News. In their article they highlight how crucial this State Visit is during a time when ‘the U.K. and the royal family is under pressure to reexamine the history of colonialism and apologize for its role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.’

AP News notes that King Charles has already taken significant steps when it comes to recognising the role of the UK in the trans-Atlantic slave trade when he opened the royal archives to researchers. Nick Westcott, a professor of diplomacy at SOAS University of London states:

History never disappears, I think that’s how he sees it genuinely himself — that we shouldn’t paper over the past, pretending what didn’t happen, that you have to face up to it. But then the objective is to look at the future.

However, Danica Kirka and Evelyne Musambi for AP News point out that, in Kenya, King Charles will also have to face younger generations who ‘question what links, if any, their country should have with its former colonial power’. As pointed out before, colonialism still has influence today. Some laws in use are directly inherited from colonial laws (the ban of gay sex being one of them).

Veteran politician and human rights activist Koigi Wamwere puts it simply. In his view the two countries ‘cannot move forward until they apologize, offer reparations and return the land they stole’.

Nick Westcott from SOAS adds, ‘with a growing number of people of African origin now living in the U.K., making a connection with the people of Kenya is important to Charles'

Ending on:

It is not just Kenya he’s visiting. It is Africa.

Will King Charles be up for the challenge?

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The Guardian: King Charles, Britain already admitted to torture in Kenya, no need for you to choke on an apology

Reuters: Dispossessed Kenyans demand compensation ahead of King Charles' visit

AP News: King Charles III seeks to look ahead in a visit to Kenya. But he’ll have history to contend with

Press release: The King and Queen will undertake a State Visit to Kenya

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