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King Charles III to Visit Kenya, Faces Calls to Apologize

FILE - Britain's King Charles III waves during his visit to the Discovery Center and Auld School Close in Tomintoul, Scotland, Sept. 13, 2023.
FILE - Britain's King Charles III waves during his visit to the Discovery Center and Auld School Close in Tomintoul, Scotland, Sept. 13, 2023.

LONDON/NAIROBI — King Charles III will travel to Kenya later this month for a state visit in a trip that is full of symbolism. But the monarch is also facing calls to apologize for colonial-era atrocities in East African country.

Charles' mother, the late Queen Elizabeth II, learned that she had become U.K. monarch while visiting a game preserve in the East African nation in 1952.

The state visit from Oct. 31-Nov. 3 will be Charles’ first to a Commonwealth nation since he succeeded his mother last year, underscoring the king’s commitment to an organization that has been central to Britain’s global power and prestige since World War II.

Charles will be greeted by Kenyan President William Ruto when he arrives in the capital, Nairobi. The king plans to visit Nairobi National Park and meet with environmental activist Wanjira Mathai, the daughter of late Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai, as he underscores his commitment to environmental protection.

Charles will also acknowledge the “painful aspects” of his nation’s shared history with Kenya, which celebrates the 60th anniversary of its independence from the U.K. this year.

“If he is not coming to apologize for the atrocities they did to us then he should not come,” 53-year-old accountant John Otieno told AFP.

The two countries have enjoyed a close relationship since independence, despite the prolonged struggle against colonial rule, sometimes known as the Mau Mau Rebellion, in which thousands of Kenyans died.

“His majesty will take time during the visit to deepen his understanding of the wrongs suffered in this period by the people of Kenya,” Chris Fitzgerald, deputy private secretary to the king, said during a briefing on the state visit.

The rebellion began in the early 1950s, when groups of armed Kenyans attacked British officials and white farmers who occupied fertile lands. The Kenya Human Rights Commission estimates that 90,000 Kenyans were executed, tortured or maimed during the United Kingdom's counterinsurgency campaign.

In 2013, the U.K. government expressed its regret over the “torture and other forms of ill-treatment” perpetrated by the colonial administration from 1952-1960, and paid out 19.9 million pounds for human rights abuses.

“We are hoping that he will bring a national apology,” Evelyn Wanjugu Kimathi, the daughter of top resistance leader Dedan Kimathi, told AFP, saying she hoped the visit would lead to "closure."

“Once we have the goodwill from the UK government, everything else will be okay,” said Kimathi, who heads a foundation that looks after the interests of veterans of the independence war as well as campaigning on environmental issues.

She also voiced hope that Britain would help Kenya identify graves of the “freedom fighters” including her father, who was hanged in 1957 at Nairobi's Kamiti Maximum Security Prison but whose remains have yet to be located.

The U.K. royal family has long ties to Africa. In 1947, the future queen pledged lifelong service to Britain and the Commonwealth during a speech from South Africa on her 21st birthday. Five years later, Elizabeth and her late husband Prince Philip were visiting Aberdare National Park in Kenya when they learned that her father had died and she had become queen.

Charles himself visited Kenya in 1971, and he attended the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Rwanda in 2022.

The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 56 independent countries, most of which have historical ties to the United Kingdom and its former empire. Charles became the symbolic head of the organization after the queen died last year, but the honor is not hereditary.

Information for this report came from The Associated Press and AFP.