NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — King Charles III on Wednesday held a private meeting with the family of the executed leader of the Kenyan rebellion against British colonial rule, a day after the monarch expressed “greatest sorrow and the deepest regret” for the violence of the colonial era.
The family of Dedan Kimathi, who was hanged by the British administration, and relatives of other well-known Kenyan freedom fighters didn’t immediately comment — a change from their past outspoken calls for an apology and compensation from Britain, along with any information on the whereabouts of Kimathi’s body.
The British High Commission said only that the meeting was an “opportunity for the king to hear firsthand about the violence committed against Kenyans during their struggle for independence.” Attendees included the chair of the Mau Mau War Veterans Association.
The issue remains painful for many Kenyans, and police dispersed a couple dozen people protesting at the foot of a monument to Kimathi in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. “All the land under British should be given back to the Kenyan people,” said Juliet Wanjira with the Mathare Social Justice Center, calling also for the British military training mission in Kenya to leave.
Charles, who with Queen Camilla arrived on Monday in what is his first state visit to a Commonwealth country as monarch, on Tuesday cited the “abhorrent and unjustifiable acts of violence” committed against Kenyans as they sought independence. However, he didn’t explicitly apologize for Britain’s actions in its former colony as many Kenyans wanted.
Charles on Wednesday also visited a war cemetery, laying a wreath in honor of those who fought alongside the British in the two world wars.
He handed replacement medals to four war veterans who had lost theirs. Among the four was Cpl. Samwel Nthigai Mburia, who claims to be 117. The other three are privates John Kavai, Kefa Chagira and Ezekiel Nyanjom Anyange.
Mburia, who fought in Damascus, Cairo and Jerusalem, said he got rid of his medal long ago for fear of being associated with the British colonizers but was now happy to get a replacement from the king.
Kavai, 101, who fought in India and Burma in World War II, said his medals were a “joy and pride for him and his entire family,” reminding him of his service.
The cemetery has 59 graves and is next to Kariokor market, previously the site of Nairobi’s Carrier Corps Depot, the administrative center through which soldiers heading to the front passed through. Charles also met with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission members and communities living near the cemetery.
Kenya is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its independence this year. It has had a close but at times challenging relationship with Britain after the prolonged struggle against colonial rule, sometimes known as the Mau Mau Rebellion, in which thousands of Kenyans died.
Colonial authorities resorted to executions and detention without trial as they tried to put down the insurrection, and thousands of Kenyans said they were beaten and sexually assaulted by agents of the administration.
On the roads leading to the war cemetery, at a walking distance from the central business district, authorities deployed heavy security including army, an anti-terror police unit, elite units and regular police.
The king also visited the United Nations office in Nairobi to learn more about the work of U.N. environment and habitat programs in Kenya. “As a result of your efforts, millions of the most vulnerable people in the world have a greater measure of security, safety and support,” he told staff.
Charles met with environmental activist Wanjira Mathai, the daughter of late Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai, to emphasize his commitment to environmental protection and planted a tree at Nairobi’s Karura forest with 10-year-old environmental campaigner Karen Kimani.
Camilla on Wednesday visited a donkey sanctuary, and the royal couple visited an elephant orphanage where the queen bottle-fed a baby elephant.
The royal family has long ties to Africa. In 1947, the future Queen Elizabeth II pledged lifelong service to Britain and the Commonwealth during a speech from South Africa on her 21st birthday. Five years later, she and her husband Prince Philip were visiting Aberdare National Park in Kenya when they learned that her father had died and she had become queen.