The much-anticipated autobiography of Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, has been released. Simply for who he is and what he has gone through since birth, the book sale has hit the roof and it is the number 1 bestseller of a non-fiction work on Amazon, and the New York Times Bestseller List.
As it is with everything about Harry, the book had been leaked to the British tabloids through the ‘premature’ release of a Spanish language translation. These British tabloids, the same press that hounded Harry and his family out of Britain, proceeded to serialize the book, picking out quotes and passages out of context. In his pre- and post-publication interviews, Harry called out the continuation of these disservice, lies, and fabrications by the press and armchair analysts, including body language hacks and psychologists of all shades. And so I decided to hold my comments until I read the book.
For me, Spare is an authentic account of the travails of a happy child suddenly thrust into public life and trying ever so hard to navigate through being a royal while forging an identity for himself, most times unaided by loving hands. Growing up for him was more like being thrown into a body of water filled with blood-thirsty sharks and asked to swim out, or sink, and risk being eaten alive or dead. In writing the book, Harry has been accused of exposing royal secrets, but I am sure that most mortals must understand that a prince cannot talk about his life without saying anything about the people in his life. This is more so when the press and the ever-present royal watchers had been ferreting tidbits in the course of many lifetimes. Of course, the Palace would and did take the position that if one should ignore the tabloids they would eventually go away. But such an attitude was wrong for three reasons.
First, so long as there would be anonymous palace sources to talk to the tabloids, they would not go away. Second, young Harry at the age of 12 walked behind his mother’s casket, who died while being chased by the press, and the latter watched her die as they clicked their cameras endlessly. His words “the last thing Mummy saw on this earth was a flash bulb…” has been seared into his young heart, impossible to erase. And, thirdly, there is a voracious hunger for the tabloid news by a section of the public who perhaps believe that they are in an arena where they can watch the lives of the royals being torn apart as if they are watching duels of Roman gladiators and slaves.
A 12-year-old “baby of the house” lost his mother and literally no one took his hands to comfort him or be a surrogate mum (he had to find one in Botswana); that is heart-wrenching. But what was worse is that the assault from the press continued unabated by both the press and those who implicitly aided them even in their silence. Unbelievably, it got worse and acquired a new impetus when the duke found a wife.
The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, is black. Their union is a love story for the ages. The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh approved, the parents all around approved. But the tabloids did not. From the moment Meghan came into Harrys’ orbit, the press announced in no uncertain terms that she must be coming from poor and crime-infested Compton neighborhood in California. Never mind that Meghan had been a successful actress in a long-running TV series, Suits, that was even popular in Britain. Never mind that, up until this period, the British press had idolized practically every movie star or diva, irrespective of colour. Halle Berry was good for James Bond. The Spice Girls were good for Britain and Sir David Beckham, and Tina Turner is still a diva. But for the British tabloids, Meghan could not be good for their prince. Suddenly, Meghan became responsible for every conceived ill Harry has done or is planning to execute. And while this new ‘hunted woman’ was being torn apart, the Palace maintained a stoic silence. Harry tried to manage this onslaught the best way he could, until Meghan, then pregnant with their first child, came close to suicide. That was the last straw for Harry. He made up his mind to step down as a royal, believing that, if his family ended their dependence on British taxpayers-funded royal family support, the press would leave them alone. To his surprise and most peoples’, the Palace let them go. A great pity and a missed opportunity that was.
Since the 1500s up to the late 1800s, Great Britain then and as it is known today had been invading, occupying and colonizing other lands unprovoked, and all in the name of the sovereign ruler, the King, or Queen. Usually, this is preceded by a solitary expedition or a small band of explorers visiting and writing about such lands to the sovereign head, in effect turning themselves into scouts before or after their trips. The British colonized North America, the Caribbean Islands, the Indian subcontinent, New Zealand, more than 30 per cent of Africa, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) Malaysia, Burma (Myanmar), and even turned a whole continent of Australia into a penal colony. During their forced stay in these lands, the British engaged in all sorts of illegal activities including but not limited to taxation, imprisonment, executions, slavery and slave trade, fratricidal warfare, natural resource exploitation, etcetera.
Worse still, twice when Germany attacked Britain, she coerced these countries, even USA that had managed to declare a republic from Britain in 1776, into fighting alongside her, hence the two World Wars of the 20th Century, for Britain truly owned half of the world, with 70 per cent of the other half firmly in the hands of the Europeans who opposed Germany as well. The end of the Second World War forced Britain into devolution of powers in some countries and granting of outright independence in others. As the world got together to create the United Nations to be a check on expansionist regimes, Britain established the Commonwealth of Nations of the willing former colonies, in itself a continuation of soft imperialism.
Generally, whether by design or genuine and affectionate assistance, the Commonwealth countries governed under devolution of powers fared better than those with total independence. The latter are mainly African and the Caribbean countries who are blacks as well. It must be noted that, for centuries, the blacks were forcibly shipped out of their countries as slaves to other lands. It turned out that the slaves taken away were the strongest and brightest of the population. In all these processes, knowledge, institutions, records, and arts were destroyed or carted away. The colonialists drew the maps of these nations at a round table conference of themselves in Berlin in 1884. Thus, with several strokes of the pen, ignoring cultural affinities and contiguity or discordance of tribes, they created a potpourri of unwilling tribes within geographical boundaries called nations, so much akin to Great Britain of today – apart from Wales, Scotland and Ireland do not seem happy partners of that union. This is true of my country Nigeria, which today is more of a failed state than the promising budding nation whose flag I was waving joyously as a five-year-old in 1960.
Britain has a moral and legal responsibility to each Commonwealth nation. I am not aware of any tribe that invited the British to these shores of Nigeria. I am not aware of any Nigerian tribe in the Southern Protectorate that clamoured for the 1914 Amalgamation of Northern and Southern protectorates. These responsibilities could be restitution. Even though monetary restitution is desired, we know that such would bankrupt Britain given the number of nations in the Commonwealth. Therefore, there must be some other ways to correct the ills of colonialism beyond the quadrennial Commonwealth Games. Such other forms need to be negotiated.
And herein lies the missed opportunity of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. In these two the Royal Family, and by implication the British Government, has the one that is a natural advocate and the other who had successfully banished his unconscious bias ready and willing to tackle head-on the hydra-headed issue of racism within the Commonwealth. Every measure that the British Government has been engaged in so far in this direction amounts to nothing but palliatives to festering wounds. A good number of the British public is racist. Until colonialists the world over acknowledge their original sins and take positive steps to course-correct, they labour in vain.