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In Africa, not everyone mourns Queen Elizabeth II

In Africa, not everyone mourns Queen Elizabeth II
FILE - Britain's Queen Elizabeth II looks on during a visit to officially open the new ....   -  
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Kirsty O'Connor/AP

Queen Elizabeth II

From Kenya to Nigeria to South Africa, the death of Queen Elizabeth II has prompted an outpouring of condolences from African heads of state praising an "extraordinary" leader and sharing memories of her frequent visits to the continent during her 70-year reign.

However, the monarch's death has also reignited a sensitive debate about the colonial past in English-speaking Africa, particularly the queen's role as head of state during British rule.

When Elizabeth was born in 1926, the British Empire spanned six continents. During her reign, which began in 1952, most of the 56 countries that make up the Commonwealth gained their independence, including many nations on the African continent such as Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria.

His death comes at a time when European countries are under pressure to come to terms with their colonial history, atone for past crimes, and to return stolen African artifacts held for years in museums in London and Paris.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta were among those who expressed condolences for the loss of an "icon," but many Africans also spoke of the tragedies of the colonial era of his rule.

Such as in Kenya, where the Mau Mau revolt, which ran from 1952 to 1960 against colonial rule, left at least 10,000 people dead in one of the bloodiest repressions of the British empire.

Britain agreed in 2013 - more than half a century later - to compensate more than 5,000 Kenyans who suffered horrific abuse during the revolt, in a deal worth nearly 20 million pounds (23 million euros).

- Biafran War -

"The Queen leaves a mixed legacy of brutal repression of Kenyans in their own country and mutually beneficial relations," wrote The Daily Nation, Kenya's leading newspaper, in a weekend editorial.

Elizabeth was visiting Kenya in 1952 when her father died and she became queen.

"What followed was a bloody chapter in Kenya's history, with atrocities committed against a people whose only sin was to demand independence."

In Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, President Muhammadu Buhari paid tribute to the monarch, saying his country's history "will never be complete without a chapter on Queen Elizabeth II."

While some praised the role she played leading up to Nigeria's independence, others pointed out that she was head of state when Britain supported the Nigerian army during the country's civil war.

More than a million people died in the Biafran War between 1967 and 1970, mostly from hunger and disease, during the conflict that followed the declaration of independence by ethnic Igbo officers in the southeast of the country.

"If anyone expects me to express anything other than contempt for the monarch who oversaw a government that supported the genocide that massacred and displaced half of my family (...) you're dreaming," said Uju Anya, a Nigerian-American academic on Twitter, sparking a heated debate on social networks.

- "Absurd theater" -

In South Africa, reactions are also divided, between President Cyril Ramaphosa who lamented the death of an "extraordinary" figure, and a part of the youth who refuses to celebrate it.

Like the party of the South African radical left, the Fighters for Economic Freedom (EFF), which wrote in a statement: "We do not mourn the death of Elizabeth, because for us her death is a reminder of a very tragic period in the history of this country and of Africa.

"During her 70-year reign, she never acknowledged the atrocities her family inflicted on the peoples Britain invaded around the world," the party added, referring in particular to the slave trade and colonialism.

Mukoma Wa Ngugi, son of the world-renowned Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o and himself a novelist as well as a professor at Cornell University, also questioned the queen's legacy in Africa.

"If the queen had apologized for slavery, colonialism, and neo-colonialism and urged the crown to offer reparations for the millions of lives taken in her/their name, then maybe I ... would feel bad," he wrote on Twitter.

"As a Kenyan, I feel nothing. This theater is absurd."