Kenya’s lengthy dalliance with Queen Elizabeth II
What you need to know:
- The Queen ascended to the throne in 1952 on the steps of State House Nairobi, then known as Government House.
- Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, as it relates to Kenya, is a mixed bag and cuts through colonial and post-colonial Kenya.
- That Nairobi played a huge part in the transition, with the governor flying back to the city to read the proclamation before the queen left, made Kenya a special place in the history of Princess Elizabeth.
Queen Elizabeth II still had a soft spot for Kenya. She ascended to the throne in 1952 on the steps of State House Nairobi, then known as Government House after the colonial Governor Sir Philip Mitchell read the proclamation that saw the young princess become Queen Elizabeth II.
A day earlier, the princess was almost trumped by elephants, according to Sherbrooke Walker, the owner of Treetops Hotel in Nyeri where the princess and her husband, Duke of Edinburg, were visiting.
That was before the new monarch dashed home and appeared before the Accession Council, where she swore to uphold the constitution.
She was the first in 200 years to accede to the throne while abroad.
An elephant suddenly appeared when the young princess was heading to a picture-taking spot at Treetops.
“With the greatest coolness and courage,” Walter later reported to Governor Mitchell, “the princess continued going forward and quietly climbed the ladder without any suspicion of a hurry.”
The next morning, Walker told the princess: “If you have the same courage, Ma’am, in facing whatever the future sends you, as you have in facing an elephant at 11 yards, we are going to be very fortunate.”
The princess smiled, according to reports, as the royal entourage headed to Sagana – where they would learn that her father, King George VI had died.
Queen Elizabeth II who died on Thursday at Balmoral Castle, Scotland, was for the last 70 years the bedrock of the Commonwealth, a constellation of former British colonies.
Royal State Lodge
But it was in Kenya where the story starts. She had personal property in the country – the Royal State Lodge, a wedding gift from “the people of Kenya”.
In 1952, Nairobi also named its first dual carriage street Princess Elizabeth Highway in her honour.
Today, her birthday gift – now Sagana State Lodge – is government property after she passed it over to Jomo Kenyatta, the founding president, in 1963.
Her grandfather, King George V’s statue, has since been replaced with that of Mzee Kenyatta.
In addition, the Kenyatta government renamed the Princess Elizabeth Way the Uhuru Highway, and the former Queen’s Way is now Mama Ngina Street.
By erasing the memories of Queen Elizabeth II from its landscape, Kenya was putting behind an era that had brought painful legacies.
Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, as it relates to Kenya, is a mixed bag and cuts through colonial and post-colonial Kenya.
During her rule, Kenya went through its darkest moment in the 1950s as a crackdown on freedom fighters turned the colony into what historians call ‘The British Gulag.’
During her reign, the State of Emergency was declared in Kenya in October 1952, leading to a crackdown, mainly in Nairobi and the Mt Kenya region, which left hundreds of thousands of people in detention camps, 11,000 killed, and 1,000 freedom fighters hanged.
No wonder some of the targets by the Mau Mau freedom fighters were Sagana Royal Lodge and the Treetops Hotel.
Mau Mau raids
In July 1953, the Mau Mau managed to enter the Royal Lodge and took away blankets, two pairs of binoculars, a gun case, and food.
Another group raided Treetops – where the Queen had visited – and burnt it down. The burning of Treetop, an annex of Outspan Hotel, gave Mau Mau what they wanted: international publicity.
The Mau Mau had initially tried to upstage the Queen's coronation by having their own in Thompson Falls, where they installed a Miss Wagiri Njoroge as Mau Mau Queen. She was later arrested and jailed for 10 years.
By November 1949, when Kenya conceptualised the gift idea, it was unclear when Princess Elizabeth would visit Sagana to accept it.
However, it was a lovely site and the lodge was described in colonial papers as a place with some “good fishing in the Sagana River just beyond the front yard, and big game not far away.”
So in 1952, when Princess Elizabeth and her husband set to tour some of the British colonies – aboard HMS Gothic, a passenger-cargo liner designated a royal yacht from 1952 to 1954 – the new couple had put Sagana Royal Lodge as the starting point of their itinerary.
But as the two flew to Kenya, they never anticipated that the ailing King George VI, whose cancerous lung had been removed, would die from a blood clot.
King George VI had become King by fate after Edward VIII abdicated the throne, rather than give up the love of Ms Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American socialite.
In Nyeri, Princess Elizabeth and Phillip were hosted by Eric Sherbrooke Walker, a former wines smuggler who had built Outspan Hotel and its extension, The Treetops.
Before they left for Nyeri, the couple had attended a massive garden party at Nairobi’s Government House.
The governor had then left for Mombasa to prepare for the departure of the royal couple, who were to start their tour of Australia, Ceylon, and New Zealand aboard HMS Gothic.
Hyde Park Corner
But on the morning of February 6, a valet who had gone to draw a curtain in the King’s bedroom found his lifeless body.
He had died that night. A crisis had started since the would-be queen was in the heartland of Africa, and there was fear that she might get the news from some unofficial channels, such as a radio broadcast.
The British prime minister Winston Churchill was at No. 10 Downing Street when the coded message: “Hyde Park Corner” was delivered by Edward Ford, the King’s assistant private secretary.
“Hyde Park Corner” was the palace code for “The King has died”. So he had to contact the Governor in Kenya, Sir Mitchell, to read the proclamation.
While a coded message about the King’s death had been sent to Government House, the governor had apparently carried the cypher book as he headed to Mombasa.
When the message arrived, there was no one to decipher it.
Then, by chance, Martin Charteris, the private secretary to the princess, was having a lunch drink at the Outspan Hotel when Granville Roberts, a reporter with the East African Standard covering the royal visit, happened to learn about the newsflash from Reuters.
It was now 2 pm. He saw Charteris and rushed to him. “The King has died!” said Roberts, breaking the news.
That Nairobi played a huge part in the transition, with the governor flying back to the city to read the proclamation before the queen left, made Kenya a special place in the history of Princess Elizabeth.
Then in 1963, after a lengthy negotiation on the constitution, her signature granted back Kenya’s independence, ending decades of colonial rule that started when her grandfather, King George V, signed the proclamation that turned the former British East Africa Protectorate into the colony of Kenya.
Ironically, power was handed over to Jomo Kenyatta, the man the British governor, Sir Patrick Rennison, had dismissed as “leader unto death and darkness”.
Queen Elizabeth approved the appointment of Jomo Kenyatta as prime minister after the governor forwarded his name.
Of course, she also had to approve the pre-1963 cabinet lists. But, the most important deed is that it was through her accession of the Kenya Independence Act that the country became independent after 65 years of colonial rule.
She later sent her Consort, Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip, to officiate the ceremony.
For that, and over the years, the queen had a soft spot for Kenya, while Kenya reciprocated the bond.
Vice-President Daniel arap Moi is said to have baptised his children Doris Elizabeth and Philip as an honour to the Royal family, according to his biographer Andrew Morton.
In March 1972, Queen Elizabeth made a short debut visit to Kenya and had lunch with Jomo Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi, where she was bestowed the Chief of the Order of the Golden Heart.
In 1979 President Moi, in one of his first trips abroad, visited Buckingham Palace, where the Queen presented him to members of the royal family and other dignitaries.
These included the new British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who was to become Moi’s ally.
The Queen would later make two visits to Kenya during the reign of President Moi.
The first was in 1983 when she toured Sagana Lodge – the place her tour was cut shot in 1952.
During her five-day second official visit to Kenya, the Queen lay the wreath on the grave of President Kenyatta – the man who had replaced her as Head of State in 1964.
The last visit was in 1991 as a guest of President Moi. But she received criticism at that time since Moi was under pressure to abandon his dictatorial, single-party regime.
The fledging opposition had interpreted the visit as an endorsement of Moi’s rule.
President Mwai Kibaki never visited the Queen at Buckingham Palace during his presidency, even though Kenya is a member of the Commonwealth. He had fallen out with London during his reign.
On the other hand, President Uhuru Kenyatta visited the palace in 2018. Initially, his appearance at the International Criminal Court presented an awkward international relations dilemma during his first term
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