A version of this story appeared in the June 24 edition of CNN’s Royal News, a weekly dispatch bringing you the inside track on Britain’s royal family. Sign up here.
Better late than never. That was the general reaction to Prince Charles’ opening speech at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali on Friday.
The prince will succeed his mother as head of the organization – an association of independent states that emerged out of the ashes of the British Empire. That empire will forever be associated with slavery, and Prince Charles made it clear in his opening remarks that he wants to change the status quo and begin a dialogue about it.
“While we strive together for peace, prosperity and democracy I want to acknowledge that the roots of our contemporary association run deep into the most painful period of our history,” he told delegates. “I cannot describe the depths of my personal sorrow at the suffering of so many, as I continue to deepen my own understanding of slavery’s enduring impact. “
Those delegates coming out after the speech appeared moved and heartened by the prince’s words. A more resounding “sorry” would have suited some better but that would open the way for reparation claims and that’s a government issue, not one for the monarchy.
Charles said the Commonwealth needs to “find new ways to acknowledge our past. Quite simply, this is a conversation whose time has come. Your Excellencies, conversations start with listening.”
Yusuf Keketoma Sandi was part of the Sierra Leone delegation. Tens of thousands of Africans were kidnapped and brought to Sierra Leone, to be traded and put on slave ships bound for the Americas. It later became a British colony.
He told us: “Slavery has not been part of the conversation, so the fact that we have the prince today talking about slavery and to see how we want to start that conversation… Sierra Leone is looking forward to that and we hope that when it starts he will pay a visit to Sierra Leone and go and see some of the scars left in Sierra Leone.”
There are still 15 countries that have Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. Barbados only replaced her with a locally appointed president last year. The Prime Minister of Jamaica voiced the desire to do the same a few months ago.
In Kigali, Charles made clear he would not stand in