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Prince Charles expresses regret over slavery in his Commonwealth speech

  • Commonwealth leaders gather for the Kigali summit
  • Charles alludes to colonialism, slavery in the speech
  • Rwanda’s Kagame speaks of “reinventing” the Commonwealth.
  • Members vote to keep Patricia Scotland as sec gene

KIGALI, June 24 (Reuters) – Britain’s Prince Charles expressed his deep sorrow at slavery in a speech to Commonwealth leaders in Rwanda on Friday and acknowledged the organization’s roots lay in a painful time in history.

The Commonwealth, a club of 54 states that emerged from the British Empire, comprises about a third of humanity and presents itself as a network of equal partners, but some member states are demanding a coming to terms with the colonial past. Continue reading

“I want to recognize that the roots of our union today go deep into the most painful time of our history,” Charles told assembled Commonwealth leaders at the opening ceremony of a two-day summit in Kigali.

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“I cannot describe the depth of my personal sadness at the suffering of so many as I continue to deepen my own understanding of the enduring effects of slavery.”

Britain and other European nations enslaved more than 10 million Africans between the 15th and 19th centuries and transported them across the Atlantic to work on plantations in the Caribbean and America. Many died along the way.

Commonwealth members include West African nations like Nigeria and Ghana, where slaves were captured, and 12 Caribbean nations, where they spent the rest of their lives.

The Commonwealth has not yet publicly addressed the legacy of slavery. Some Caribbean ministers have called for a discussion of this, including the issue of reparations, which Charles did not mention.

“If we are to build a common future that benefits all our citizens, we too must find new ways to honor our past. Quite simply, this is a conversation whose time has come,” Charles said.

Several delegates said Charles’ comments were a welcome acknowledgment of past woes, but added that the focus should be on the future.

“We’re not here to delve into the dark story. We want to see how we are progressing,” said Liberata Mulamula, Tanzania’s foreign minister.


Rwandan President Paul Kagame, whose country joined the Commonwealth in 2009, offered a different perspective in his own address to the assembled leaders before Charles spoke.

“The fact that this meeting is held in Rwanda, a new member with no historical connection to the British Empire, expresses our determination to reinvent the Commonwealth for a changing world,” he said.

The summit will consider applications from former French colonies Togo and Gabon to join the Commonwealth, a sign of disenchantment within the French sphere of influence in Africa and the appeal of an English-speaking club. Continue reading

29 heads of state and government will attend the summit. The other 25 member states, including South Africa, India, Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand, sent delegations led by ministers or diplomats.

Member states voted to keep Patricia Scotland as secretary-general after some countries, including the UK, tried to replace her with Jamaican foreign secretary Kamina Johnson Smith. Scotland, which has weathered several scandals since taking office in 2016, will serve another two years. Continue reading

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Writing by Estelle Shirbon, editing by William Maclean, Gareth Jones, Alex Richardson and Nick Macfie

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.