King Charles has waited a lifetime to follow in his mother’s footsteps. Now that he has taken the Coronation oath, the world will be watching to see if he is about to act and leave his mark on history by improving people’s lives. He now has the opportunity to demonstrate leadership on issues like the climate crisis and slavery reparations.
- His Majesty delivered his first Commonwealth Day message as monarch on 13th March 2023 at Westminster Abbey. Unlike Queen Elizabeth who used to pre-record her annual messages, the Monarch delivered his address live and in person.
- Most Britons are familiar with and particularly well versed in the history of the Commonwealth which arose from the dying flames of the British Empire. It has been closely associated for a long time with Queen Elizabeth who served as its most passionate champion and head during her 70-year reign. The Commonwealth was envisioned by her as a powerful vehicle to forge new diplomatic relations with and exert soft influence over the former colonies of Britain as they won their independence after world war II.
During the latter half of the 20th century, Queen Elizabeth could look to the development of the Commonwealth of Nations with herself as its core, as proof of the continued pre-eminence of institutions, British culture, and global laws. Being focused on the Commonwealth made it possible for Great Britain and the Queen to draw a veil over atrocities committed in the past in the name of the kingdom certain of ‘the cherished mythology of an empire that ruled in order to free’ (Priyamvada Gopal).
Queen Elizabeth delayed the day of reckoning to an undetermined future date by choosing for the most part not to confront the ruthlessness underpinning British colonization. This postponed reckoning has now fallen upon the shoulders of her eldest son and heir, King Charles. Indeed in 2018, it was Queen Elizabeth who convinced Commonwealth leaders to announce that Britain’s next monarch would succeed her as head even though the position is not hereditary. She probably hoped that King Charles would conform to and confirm her vision, assisting member states to navigate the present rapidly changing complex world, and maintaining connections with the monarchy.
His Majesty has promised boldness but has thus far exhibited caution in areas where he is able to make a real difference such as the pressing issue of slavery reparations. Even though he expressed sorrow and regret over colonial slavery, King Charles has not reached out to affected communities or apologized in his speeches delivered in Ghana in 2018, Barbados in 2021 and Rwanda in 2022 to discuss reparatory justice. He now has the opportunity as both Head of the Commonwealth and King of 15 Commonwealth realms to demonstrate leadership on this crucial issue and leave behind a legacy of his own instead of his mother’s. Delaying action on reparations and Britain’s colonial past is consigning the hard work to the next generation, which is already facing unprecedented challenges that are related to climate change. The King appears keen to pursue the impacts of climate change from cyclones to floods, to heatwaves and droughts. Smaller island nations that are particularly affected by rising sea levels and global warming require more than advocacy.
Improving the lives of over a third of the population of the world poses an enormous challenge, in an era when Britain’s role in the future of the Commonwealth itself remains uncertain. Will it be possible for King Charles to fulfil the ambitious promises of his Commonwealth Day message in the time that he has left?