Commonwealth is no longer an entity for colonies, so don’t disband it

Friday September 30 2022
Commonwealth meeting

Heads of state and government at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Rwanda. PHOTO | CHOGM


First it was Eduardo Dos Santos, ex-president of Angola, then Mikhail Gorbachev, former leader of the defunct Soviet Union, and then long-reigning monarch of the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II.

I am ideologically a republican, because hereditary leadership, whether of queens in Europe or chiefs in Africa, is quintessentially undemocratic. The queen was loved by citizens of the United Kingdom, most of whom feel the crown embodies not only the sovereignty of the UK, but also the long traditions of the country.

Her death has sparked controversy in some quarters. Some have felt that the queen owed citizens of the former colonies of Britain an apology for colonialism.

During her funeral at Westminster Abbey, an African man caused havoc and consternation by staging a loud protest during the solemn ceremony. I’m not sure such histrionics are the way to make a political or ideological point.

And there is, of course, the glaring and underlying contradiction in that protest, because the man lives in London, having, no doubt, fled from an independent African country.

But the point the man wanted to raise was to what extent the queen was responsible for her country’s colonial history? Being only a figurehead, she did not send British troops anywhere. The entity perhaps who should be held responsible for colonialism is the British government, which is the successor government to those that sent British troops to conquer the world.


The protester might argue that as the crown, she represented the British government and was, therefore, as liable as the relevant prime minister. On this issue, Black British writer, Aminatta Forna, has called for ‘‘thoughtful debate’’, instead of “trolling”.

An essay that discusses the issue of colonialism in a thoughtful way is “in praise of alienation” by the late Nigerian scholar Abiola Irele. He resists the emotive, often hysterical, polemics of cultural nationalism and instead discusses both the brutality of the colonial occupation and how that encounter impacted the African traditional worldview and Africa’s cultural and technological contexts.

It’s a multilayered essay, showing the contradictions within the colonising ideology and the colonial enterprise, as well as within the traditional African universe. Such thoughtful scholarship has been replaced by a shrill, self-righteous, and self-dramatising pan-Africanist ideological orthodoxy.

So this new-age radicalism now calls for the dismantling of the commonwealth. The commonwealth, however, has outlived its colonial beginnings and is now a voluntary organisation of equal independent states. Its collectivity gives it diplomatic power. It uses its diplomatic power to promote democracy and economic development among its members and elsewhere.

In the arts, it promotes diversity and creativity. The Commonwealth Short Story Prize, for example, catapults winners and those shortlisted onto the world stage of literature.

Dismantling the commonwealth, therefore, is not a heroic anti-colonial act. It’s akin to cutting your nose to spite your face.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator