Harry Wales, also known by royalists as Prince Harry, traveled to the Caribbean to officially mark the 35th anniversary of Antigua and Barbuda’s independence and the 50th anniversary of Guyanese and Barbadian independence. Although he has been received positively by the governments of the islands he has visited so far, there has been a backlash by protesters who wish to see the British monarch as no longer their head of state. This is an interesting development because it shows how the deference towards the monarchy is waning and that people are warming to the idea of one of their own people being their head of state.
The actual protest began with an anti-colonialist campaign on social media, primarily focused around the hashtag #NotMyPrince, which is a reference to the hashtag #NotMyPresident that was trending worldwide after the election of Donald Trump as US President. The protest group was founded by Nalini Mohabir and Jermain Ostiana, and have said that their aims are ‘Decolonization. Dignity. An apology and reparations’.
This story greatly interested me because of the implications of such a policy. Firstly the most obvious point is that the British monarch should not be the head of state of any other country. The argument made by royalists in other countries is bizarre because the democratic opposition to monarchy is made stronger when the monarch in question is from your former colonial power.
The more meaty part of this discussion is about what the British government’s response to these protests should be. I subscribe to the school of thought that says the government should pay reparations to former colonies and here is why. The current success of Britain was largely because of colonial exploitation, both directly and indirectly. By conquering land the British state had access to natural and human resources that were unparalleled and as such could finance investments in innovation and science.
Also by increasing the standard of living for people back home, Britain became more attractive to people from across the world. When decolonization was taking place thousands of people from former colonies traveled to Britain in search for work, but they couldn’t feasibly do this if Britain was not an affluent country. Some people may have come to Britain in the 1950s and 1960s because of a cultural affinity with the country, but for many the motive was purely economic.
Some people argue against reparations with an argument that is sound but slightly misses the point. These opponents will often argue that Britain shouldn’t pay reparations because ‘the sins of the father shouldn’t be passed to the son’. This is fair as everybody should be judged by their own merits, but it doesn’t quite address what we’re talking about. The grievance that people in former colonies have is not with the individuals that colonized them but with the societies that profited. For example people don’t demand that the distant descendants of Robert Clive or Cecil Rhodes apologize for what their relative did, they argue that the British state, which handsomely benefited from their highly immoral activities, compensate them for their loss.
I wrote a piece a few weeks ago that made reference to a similar idea but I’ll put it into this context. If we agree that British colonialism was bad because of the atrocities that were inflicted on the native population and the extraction of raw materials from all corners of the globe, should these nations be compensated now? One could make a Ship of Theseus point about how the British government of then is not the same as the British government of now, and whilst this is true it’s an unsatisfactory evasion because it doesn’t really address the protesters concerns.
The injustice is that Britain has expropriated the resources of another nation and because of this the victim country has been unable to economically develop. The question here is not about individuals, but about the British state as an entity. Although the people in the British government at the time are long dead, the legal entity that carried out these atrocities remains and in many cases have not apologised. This being the case, the initial injustice of a nation-state extracting wealth from another without the victim’s consent has not been addressed, and as such reparations are a justified resolution.
My suggestions for such reparations is an estimation of how much wealth was extracted, in modern-day monetary terms, and then a Marshall Plan-style investment strategy reallocating resources to the aggrieved nations. This would be beneficial for Britain because it would place these nations within its sphere of influence, and would also be good for individual countries because they would be able to lift massive numbers of people out of poverty. Further, adopting a modern-day Marshall Plan would be a way of creating economic self-sufficiency. If reparations were paid and directly invested into energy, technology, and social infrastructure, the recipient countries would quickly become developed, particularly in the case of small countries like those in the Caribbean.
To conclude, I don’t think it is surprising that people are starting to oppose the idea of a foreign national being the default head of state of your own country without any democratic mandate. Hopefully this campaign is successful in galvanising republican support across the Commonwealth. In terms of reparations, the ball is in Britain’s court. If the British state acted to repay the countries that were victims of colonialism through a massive programme of investment as I have suggested, not only would the world became a more economically equal place, but it would give Britain a certain amount of honour as it would be a recognition of a page being turned away from this history. If countries in the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa all received money from Britain to compensate for colonial exploitation, this could start a virtuous cycle that may well see millions of people lifted out of poverty. The only obstacle is right-wing ideas of national pride and a romanticised view of Empire, but unfortunately these concepts remain etched in the British collective psyche.