Locals staged protests, calling out Britain’s history of colonialism and racism, during the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s royal tour of the Caribbean.
Jamaica will begin the process of removing Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state after Prince William and Duchess Kate leave the country this week. It comes amid the Cambridges’ royal tour, which palace sources have described as a “charm offensive” to win over people of the Caribbean, where the queen remains the reigning monarch of eight countries.
As the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge wrapped up their final engagements in Belize, sources in the Parliament of Jamaica disclosed that the government is starting the process of becoming a republic—with a completion goal of August 6, the date of the country’s 60th Independence Day.
“It’s a long and arduous process, but having already put the wheels in motion, it will be full steam ahead in the coming weeks and months,” a senior government official told. A second political insider added that though there has been “some pushback” from certain parliament members, it is not the majority. And there are no plans for a referendum, both sources say.
Britain’s Independent also reported that a senior figure within the Jamaican government has already been appointed “with the primary intention of seeing the nation through the process of transitioning to republic status.”
Today, William and Kate’s RAF Voyager plane touched down at Jamaica’s Norman Manley International Airport at 2:20 p.m. local time, just as a four-hour rally—calling for the British monarchy to apologize for their history of colonialism and make slavery reparations—wound down in the capital city of Kingston.
Over the next three days, the future king and queen consort will carry out eight engagements in Jamaica. This afternoon, the pair will visit the city’s world-famous home of reggae, Trench Town, where they will meet well-known figures in Jamaican sport and retrace some of legendary musician Bob Marley’s footsteps.
Tomorrow, the Cambridges will have an official meeting with the country’s prime minister, Andrew Holness, before traveling to Shortwood Teachers’ College to hear about the country’s work on early childhood development. Afterward, the couple will visit the Spanish Town Hospital to hear how frontline staff have responded to the pandemic.
Though it’s not the first time protests have hit royal tours in Jamaica, today’s demonstration outside the British High Commission comes at a time when the country’s politicians and leaders have frequently spoken about following the path of Barbados, which ended its ties to the royal family and became a republic last November.
Last summer, Jamaica’s youth and culture minister, Olivia “Babsy” Grange, announced that the Caribbean island plans to seek “reparatory justice in all forms” for Britain and the monarchy’s involvement in the slave trade over hundreds of years. “Our African ancestors were forcibly removed from their home and suffered unparalleled atrocities in Africa to carry out forced labor to the benefit of the British Empire,” she said in July. “Redress is well overdue.”
And just days before the Cambridges’ arrival in Jamaica, a coalition of 100 politicians, business leaders, academics, and doctors signed an open letter to the couple, urging them to apologize on behalf of the royal family for their role in the slave trade.
“We are of the view that an apology for British crimes against humanity, including but not limited to, the exploitation of the indigenous people of Jamaica, the transatlantic trafficking of Africans, the enslavement of Africans, indentureship and colonialization, is necessary to begin a process of healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and compensation,” the letter reads. “We encourage you to act accordingly and just ‘sey yuh sorry!’ Boldly lead a youthful generation in the hope that it is possible to create a future where: the philosophy which hold one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned … and where basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race.”
Professor Rosalea Hamilton, the first to sign the letter, told she hopes the message will encourage the royal family to take accountability. “There’s been a crime against humanity,” she said. “The British monarchy and the royal family have directly benefited from the institutions of slavery and colonization.”
Grammy Award–winning dancehall star Beenie Man told Good Morning Britain that young people across Jamaica are now eager for change. “Jamaicans don’t want the queen, me can tell you that. … If Harry [was coming], people would react different. People would go and meet Harry. But William, nobody wants to see that,” he said.
The subject of the royal family’s links to the slave trade has seldom been addressed by the institution. It was the queen’s ancestor Elizabeth I who gave a ship to slave trade pioneer Sir John Hawkins in 1564, having allegedly been impressed with his previous capture of 300 Africans. And in 1660, King Charles II and several other royal family members founded a company called Royal Adventures into Africa, which transported more than 90,000 slaves from Africa to British-owned plantations in the United States and the Caribbean.
During last November’s ceremony marking Barbados’s history transition to a republic, Prince Charles acknowledged the “appalling atrocity of slavery,” describing it as something “which forever stains our history.” He called that period of time the “darkest days of our past” and added that he hopes the “creation of [Barbados as a] republic offers a new beginning.”
Though Kensington Palace has yet to comment on the protests that have followed the Cambridges’ Caribbean travels, BAZAAR understands that on Wednesday evening, Prince William plans to touch on the “atrocity” of slavery during a speech at a state dinner hosted by the Governor General of Jamaica, Patrick Allen. The duke won’t, however, go as far as to give the apology so many Jamaicans have been waiting to hear.
Author and postcolonial literature professor Emily Zobel Marshall argues that rather than trying to win over the Caribbean, members of the royal family should be working with the British government to “facilitate the conversation in the Caribbean around full independence and meaningful reparations led by local needs.”
She said, “We’ve had centuries of enslavement, followed by colonialism in the Caribbean. The damage that has been done economically and historically by Britain is vast and ongoing. To still have the queen as the head of state, in this day and age, is baffling to me. I think it’s important symbolically not to be a part of that hierarchy.”