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King Charles acknowledges past wrongs, but offers no apology in Kenya

When King Charles was in Kenya this week, he acknowledged the painful history of British colonialism in the east African country, but those looking for an apology did not hear the words they were hoping for as Charles made his first trip as monarch to a Commonwealth country.

Monarch spoke of wanting to learn more about the painful past Britain shares with east African country

A person gestures while delivering a speech.

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When King Charles was in Kenya this past week, he acknowledged the painful history of British colonialism in the east African country.

But those looking for an apology did not hear the words they were hoping for as Charles made his first trip as monarch to a Commonwealth country.

He spoke at a state dinner, acknowledging the "most painful times" in the "long and complex relationship" between the U.K. and Kenya, which gained independence from it 60 years ago.

That independence came after the brutal Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s, in which tens of thousands of Kenyans were killed or tortured by British soldiers.

"The wrongdoings of the past are a cause of the greatest sorrow and the deepest regret," Charles said.

"There were abhorrent and unjustifiable acts of violence committed against Kenyans as they waged … a painful struggle for independence and sovereignty — and for that, there can be no excuse."

But there was also no apology.

WATCH | King Charles addresses violent colonial past in Kenya:

King Charles expresses regret, no apology for British violence in Kenya

5 days ago

Duration 2:12

Featured VideoKing Charles, on his first visit as sovereign to a Commonwealth country, expressed regret to the people of Kenya for violence perpetrated by the British before the East African country won its independence. However, the King stopped short of offering the apology that many demanded.

And that was something many in Kenya were hoping Charles would offer during his visit.

"An apology is more important than regret, because when you apologize, you actually acknowledge that these violations actually occurred," Martin Mavenjina, a senior program adviser for the Kenya Human Rights Commission, told the CBC's Chris Brown via Zoom from Nairobi.

"That kind of helps bring closure for victims."

Various factors could have meant an apology wasn't too likely.

"If Charles were to apologize, it would open up a huge constitutional can of worms because it would raise questions of: well, is he apologizing on behalf of the Crown or is he apologizing on behalf of his government?" said Justin Vovk, a royal commentator and a PhD candidate at McMaster University in Hamilton who specializes in the history of the monarchy, in an interview.

"And whoever he's apologizing for — then that opens up the door to culpability, and I am certain that the British government is not looking to accept culpability for imperialism at this time. And so I suspect Charles was very actively discouraged by the government from taking a step like that."

People sit on the ground inside an enclosure surrounded by barbed wire as a soldier looks at them.

In 2013, Britain agreed to an out-of-court settlement worth 20 million pounds ($34 million Cdn) to more than 5,200 survivors of abuses during the Mau Mau uprising, but claims by other communities have been rebuffed.

Today, some see money as more important than an apology.

"I'm not sure what an apology could mean if it doesn't come with reparations, if it doesn't come with repair, and it's just empty words," Kehinde Andrews, a professor of Black studies at Birmingham City University, told Brown.

In his speech, Charles spoke of wanting to learn more about the painful past Britain and Kenya share.

"In coming back to Kenya, it matters greatly to me that I should deepen my own understanding of these wrongs, and that I meet some of those whose lives and communities were so grievously affected."

In those words, there were echoes of thoughts he shared in Canada as Prince of Wales.

A bulldozer destroys homes in a village

"It has been deeply moving to have met survivors of residential schools who, with such courage, have shared their experiences," Charles said in a speech during a short visit to Canada last year. "On behalf of my wife and myself, I want to acknowledge their suffering and to say how much our hearts go out to them and their families."

Vovk sees the similarities, but also differences.

A trademark of Charles's reign has been "his desire to meet with Indigenous leaders and representatives and to acknowledge what Indigenous [people in Canada] went through, in the same way that he has acknowledged what the people of Kenya have gone through," said Vovk.

"But Kenya is an independent country. Canada is still a constitutional monarchy, so there are more constitutional and legal questions around what the King can say regarding residential schools and colonialism in Canada than what he can say almost as a gesture of friendship and goodwill to a separate state."

In his speech, Charles also focused on personal connections with Kenya, from noting it was the country where his "dear mother," Elizabeth, learned she had become Queen to mentioning how his son William proposed to his "beloved daughter-in-law" in "sight of Mount Kenya."

Two people speak to one another inside a church.

Such personal notes are typical of royal speeches, but in this case, they may not have landed with the full desired effect.

"If you listen carefully … to King Charles's speech … it's more or less about him, the Royal Family," Mavenjina told the CBC's Brown.

"And I must say that you cannot strengthen relations or strengthen ties between two countries if you cannot acknowledge that there are violations that were done in the past and if you cannot apologize for them."

While the personal notes may have been in a way touching, Vovk said, they may not be something the average person in Kenya cares about.

A person on safari holds binoculars while standing in front of camels.

"It might have been more effective if Charles had chosen examples that spoke to a more direct relationship with the people of Kenya," he said.

"Otherwise, it's just … these memories happened and they happened in your country. That doesn't really build a bridge."

With files from Chris Brown and Reuters

Talking with a prince

A person in a forest sprays water toward the base of a tree.

When Jabee Wu was asked if she would like to talk with Prince William about her experience on the front line fighting wildfires in Canada this year, she was "shocked, but grateful."

Wu, a crew leader for Parks Canada in Wood Buffalo National Park, which straddles the border of Alberta and the Northwest Territories, was one of five firefighters on a Zoom call with the Prince of Wales on Oct. 18. They told him about the scale of the effort to tackle the fires, and the support that was available to them during the unprecedented season.

"It was hard this year because it hit so close to home," Wu told William.

"My town that I live in, Fort Smith, [N.W.T.,] was evacuated, so having the whole town leave and having that duty to serve and staying in the town, it was hard."

Firefighters received a lot of thanks from everyone when they returned to Fort Smith, she said.

"I bet they're thankful to all of you for protecting their communities and their livelihoods," William replied. "It's crucial what you guys do."

WATCH | Prince William talks with Canadians who fought wildfires this year:

The opportunity for Wu and the others to speak with William came after Kensington Palace got in touch with the Canadian High Commission in London. The palace said he was interested in having a Zoom call with the executive director of the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre and five or six front-line firefighters who were involved in Canada's record-setting 2023 season.

Participants from British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Parks Canada were on the call.

"The prince was very well versed in Canada's 2023 wildfire season and asked each firefighter about their experiences over the summer, the effect on their mental and physical health and their satisfaction with the support programs available to them," centre executive director Kim Connors said via an emailed statement.

"He led the room and made everyone feel at ease."

Wu remembers that feeling of ease, and appreciated it, given that she was feeling a little flustered and stuttering a bit.

"He was very relaxed and made you feel relaxed," she said in an interview from Fort Smith on Thursday.

William, who served as an air ambulance pilot for a few years, has long held an interest in supporting front-line workers, and in issues around mental health. Those concerns were at the forefront during the Zoom call.

A person cuts a tree with a chainsaw, with flames in the background.

"He was actually really concerned with … mental health resources and he was asking us questions and we were answering them," said Wu.

"It was very sincere. It was just like a casual conversation but he really cared about our well-being and that we were supported as workers…. He was just very … genuine."

For Wu, being part of the Zoom call was also an opportunity to talk with William about other issues, and for those concerns to be shared more widely, "like how the environmental changes that we are seeing, how it affected the fires that we were fighting … and that it should be really eyeopening to people."

Wu said she doesn't really follow the Royal Family.

"I didn't know that they had so much interest in what was going on in Canada. But it was nice to hear that they were following along … and that they showed so much concern."

As thankful as she is for the chance to speak with William, she hasn't thought too much about it since then.

"I was just kind of like, 'Oh, I got to speak with the prince. Cool.' And then carried on with my life," she said. "But …. it was a really good opportunity."

Sophie comes back to Ontario

A person smiles as they look off to the left.

Local soldiers and health-care innovation will be front and centre as Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh, visits southern Ontario over the next few days.

The sister-in-law of King Charles has made previous visits in her capacity as honorary colonel-in-chief of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, based in the Niagara region, and her role as patron of Toronto Western and Toronto General hospitals. This visit marks a return to focus on those organizations.

Sophie's visit, which began on Friday, continues until Wednesday, Buckingham Palace said.

Sophie has served as honorary colonel-in-chief for the Lincoln and Welland Regiment since 2004.

On Saturday, the regiment held the Duchess of Edinburgh competition, a military skills event she organizes that involves her Canadian- and U.K.-affiliated units.

The Lincoln and Welland Regiment won the last such competition, something that meant a lot to its members.

But it wasn't everything.

Three people look at medical equipment.

"While winning is important, the bond we share as allied units under [Sophie] is just as important to our soldiers," Lt.-Col. Christopher Canavan, the regiment's commanding officer, said via email earlier this year.

Canavan said he has "always felt a great sense of pride" talking with Sophie about the state of the unit, where its soldiers are serving or training and how their families are adjusting with personnel away on training or operations.

On Sunday, Sophie will attend a service of remembrance at the cenotaph in St. Catharines with Ontario Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell.

Vovk said royal visits such as this one are meaningful for the hosts.

"It always does great things for the morale [of the servicemen and servicewomen] and for the community when the colonels-in-chief actually visit in person, especially for St. Catharines, which isn't Ottawa or Toronto or Vancouver. This is a big community moment for that part of southern Ontario."

On Monday, the focus shifts to health care for Sophie, who has been patron of the Toronto General and Toronto Western hospitals since 2005.

During the three-day visit to those hospitals and another site within the University Health Network, she will meet front-line health-care workers, researchers, hospital supporters, volunteers, staff and patients.

Sophie will hear about advances in arthritis, vision and brain research, social and emergency medicine, along with innovations in cardiovascular care and the latest technologies in physical rehabilitation, Buckingham Palace said.

Sophie's visit follows other royal trips to Canada this year, including a very low-profile visit by her husband, Prince Edward, the Duke of Edinburgh, in the spring, and visits by Princess Anne.

King Charles has not visited Canada since becoming monarch when his mother died in September 2022, and no trip has been announced, although there have been hints of a possible visit next year.

Royally quotable

"None of this can change the past. But by addressing our history with honesty and openness we can, perhaps, demonstrate the strength of our friendship today."

— King Charles, during his speech at the state banquet this week in Kenya.

Three people talk with one another while in a garden.

Royal reads

  1. King Charles and Queen Camilla were educated on the threat posed by poaching as they greeted elephants during their visit to Kenya. [ITV]

  2. Charles is to attend the opening ceremony of the COP28 climate summit in the United Arab Emirates, one year after he was advised by the British government not to attend the COP27 summit in Egypt. [The Guardian]

  3. Four of the chairs specially made for Charles's coronation have been auctioned for charity, some of which support the homeless. [BBC]

  4. Princess Eugenie says she fears posting on Instagram after receiving backlash from trolls. The granddaughter of the late Queen Elizabeth spoke about the pressure of running her own account on the social media platform on a podcast. [ITV]

  5. Actor Simon Farnaby has reflected on an awkward encounter with Queen Elizabeth while filming the Paddington Bear Platinum Jubilee concert special. [The Independent]

  6. Critics of The Crown, including actor Judi Dench and former British prime minister John Major, must feel "rather stupid" after watching the show, its creator has said. [The Guardian]

A person uses a bottle to feed a baby elephant.

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Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.

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