Queen Elizabeth II steered the evolution of the Commonwealth into a forum for effective multilateral engagement whose potential to drive tremendous socioeconomic progress for Africa remains incontestable and redounds to the Queen’s historic legacy.
- Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s seven-decade figurehead and the longest-reigning monarch died aged 96.
- The Queen has performed a fairly neutral position as Commonwealth Head, remaining out of its major issues.
- Charles, Prince of Wales, emerged as the Queen’s designated successor in 2018 and took office on Thursday following Queen Elizabeth II’s death.
The end of Queen Elizabeth II’s seven-decade reign
Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s seven-decade figurehead and the longest-reigning monarch died aged 96. After her father’s death, George VI, in February 1952, Elizabeth II ascended to the throne. While the Commonwealth Head of State post is not hereditary, she also took over the position.
At the time of her accession, the Commonwealth consisted of eight nations, including imperial territories Canada, Australia, India, and Pakistan. Its contemporary shape as a club of free and equal members had just come to force three years before, with the signing of the London Declaration.
At her death on September 9 2022, the organization comprised 54 member nations, representing about a third of the world’s population. Nineteen member states represent Africa. Only Mozambique and Rwanda were not originally part of the British empire.
The Commonwealth’s roots trace back to the 1926 Balfour Declaration, which established British imperial dominions like South Africa as independent communities. The Queen was instrumental in establishing the post-colonial unity between Britain and her former colonies, particularly in Africa. This crucial role has now come to an end following her death.
The fight against white-minority rule in Africa
Battles against apartheid in South Africa and white minority rule in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) centred Commonwealth discourse on how to advance human rights among its members beginning in the 1950s. Britain sometimes found itself in conflict with other members during these disputes.
South Africa left the Commonwealth because of its resistance to apartheid in 1961. After apartheid ended in 1994, the nation re-joined. However, the Commonwealth did not always act as one on this subject, with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher resisting requests from other members in the mid-1980s to impose economic penalties on South Africa.
The unilateral declaration of independence by Rhodesia from Britain in 1965 triggered another long-running conflict, with Commonwealth countries condemning Rhodesia’s White-minority government.
The pursuit of change in Rhodesia divided the Commonwealth. The 1966 Commonwealth summit in Rhodesia, according to Prime Minister Harold Wilson, was the “worst ever held.” Ghana and Tanzania briefly cut ties with the UK in protest of its refusal to accept active intervention. Zimbabwe’s majority rule never materialised until 1980.
The role of Queen Elizabeth II in Africa through the Commonwealth
The Queen has performed a fairly neutral position as Commonwealth Head, remaining out of its major issues. She allegedly anticipated a Commonwealth split if apartheid-era South Africa did not receive stiffer sanctions.
The London Declaration made no mention of the Commonwealth’s Head’s position. According to historian Philip Murphy, it has become a more significant role “very much thanks to the Queen’s efforts.”
In her capacity, the Queen campaigned to attend CHOGMs when her governments have considered them possibly too contentious. The Queen skipped only two of these biannual meetings between 1971 and 2015.
Between February 1952 and 2015, the Queen last made an overseas visit. She visited all Commonwealth nations with the exception of two (Cameroon and Rwanda). In the end, the Queen made over 200 journeys and visits to Commonwealth and UK Overseas Territories. Many of these trips came against the backdrop of Cold War competition and tensions over decolonisation, with the goal of sustaining the Commonwealth despite its racial and ideological divides.
Despite the expanding number of Commonwealth republics, the Crown’s position as Commonwealth Head seems safe for another decade. While the position of Commonwealth Head of State is not hereditary, Charles, Prince of Wales, emerged as the Queen’s designated successor in 2018 and took office on Thursday following Queen Elizabeth II’s death.
The Commonwealth remains a crucial factor in Africa’s economic growth
The Commonwealth was often regarded as toothless and nothing more than a talk and pomp show at its yearly meetings under Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. It has provided enormous, though sometimes invisible, aid, support, and advice to its members, particularly those from Africa, and has become essential to the continent’s economic success.
Over the years, the focus of the Commonwealth increasingly shifted toward economic issues. This was hardly surprising. Many of the African nations making up the 53-vibrant membership had Third World status. Consequently, these nations yielded little or no power within the Commonwealth.
However, along the way, these nations shook off their reputations for instability and poverty to become ‘emerging markets’. Not least of all among them are Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria. Consequently, during a period when global economic growth mainly stagnated, many of the economies within the Commonwealth grew rapidly over the years. Not African nations can lay claim to being economic giants. However, the organization’s goal, which has representation on all six inhabited continents, is to benefit everyone economically.
The Commonwealth business model
The Commonwealth as a business model was formally established in 1997. Then, the Commonwealth Business Council was founded under Queen Elizabeth II’s supervision. Now, in the midst of a worldwide recession, the world is being combed for areas of prospective development. And thirsty eyes are now again shifting to Africa.
Of course, for many generations, the rest of the world revered Africa for its human and natural riches to the continent’s and its people’s disadvantage. So, mention of its tremendous mineral endowment, which is yet mostly unexplored, and its expanding youth population is going to scare some.
The Commonwealth has often had to defend itself against charges that it is largely toothless. Unlike comparable organizations, its members do not need to perform in a certain way. And its impact does not spread far beyond itself.
While this is correct, it overlooks that what it can do among its members is not inconsequential. Being tied by a shared past, even if not always pleasant, fosters a spirit of collaboration and understanding, a firm foundation to build from.
Decisions happen by agreement. As such, there is less risk of quarrels and tensions that a voting system would cause by forcing members to act against their views.
And the fact that it has no formal charter means that, despite its scale, which would otherwise be cumbersome, it is able to respond to fast-changing circumstances, such as the present global economic upheaval.
The Commonwealth remains important in the third century of its presence for any African country, whether woefully underdeveloped or undergoing enormous growth. In that regard, quality improvement must include knowledge, technical support, and assistance from allies who share their values and goals.
A look into the future with the passing of Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II’s leadership of the Commonwealth for the past seven decades has remained admirable. She steered the institution’s evolution into a forum for effective multilateral engagement whose potential to drive tremendous socioeconomic progress remains incontestable and redounds to the Queen’s historic legacy.
Over the years, Britain’s interactions with its former colonies in Africa have grown to diplomacy, aid, trade and economic growth. The Queen has, over the years, remained highly revered and recognized as the head of the Commonwealth. The Queen has now rested. Her death breeds a wave of uncertainty about the future of the organization. The possibility of the status of the British monarch also disappearing becomes more visible. At this point, the rout of the British monarchy in Africa could be complete.