The prince will succeed his mother as head of the organization — an association of independent states that emerged out of the ashes of the British Empire. That empire will forever be associated with slavery, and Prince Charles made it clear in his opening remarks that he wants to change the status quo and begin a dialogue about it.
“While we strive together for peace, prosperity and democracy I want to acknowledge that the roots of our contemporary association run deep into the most painful period of our history,” he told delegates. “I cannot describe the depths of my personal sorrow at the suffering of so many, as I continue to deepen my own understanding of slavery’s enduring impact. “
Those delegates coming out after the speech appeared moved and heartened by the prince’s words. A more resounding “sorry” would have suited some better but that would open the way for reparation claims and that’s a government issue, not one for the monarchy.
Charles said the Commonwealth needs to “find new ways to acknowledge our past. Quite simply, this is a conversation whose time has come. Your Excellencies, conversations start with listening.”
He told us: “Slavery has not been part of the conversation, so the fact that we have the prince today talking about slavery and to see how we want to start that conversation… Sierra Leone is looking forward to that and we hope that when it starts he will pay a visit to Sierra Leone and go and see some of the scars left in Sierra Leone.”
There are still 15 countries that have Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. Barbados only replaced her with a locally appointed president last year. The Prime Minister of Jamaica voiced the desire to do the same a few months ago.
In Kigali, Charles made clear he would not stand in the way of countries cutting ties with the monarchy. He said: “The Commonwealth contains within it countries that have had constitutional relationships with my family, some that continue to do so, and increasingly those that have had none. I want to say clearly, as I have said before, that each member’s constitutional arrangement, as republic or monarchy, is purely a matter for each member country to decide.”
The scars of slavery run deep across the planet. It couldn’t be a more sensitive subject. Royals may have shied away from it in the past but Prince Charles now wants to talk about it and he wants the Commonwealth to be the platform. He wants to be part of the solution instead of a symbol of the problem.
ROYAL TEA BREAK
Charles and UK Prime Minister avoid awkward run-in during Rwanda trip.
Speculation has been rife in the past few days of possible tensions between Prince Charles and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson’s government is pressing ahead with a policy to send some asylum seekers arriving in the UK to Rwanda for processing and possible resettlement. British newspaper the Times reported that the royal had described the plan as “appalling.” With a bilateral meeting between the two on the fringes of the Commonwealth leaders’ summit in Kigali in the cards on Friday, British media were watching to see if any of the reported tension was visible. However, hours before the event, Johnson made it clear that any conversation he might have with Charles would remain private. “I wouldn’t comment on anything that I say to the Queen or the Queen says to me. Nor will I say anything about what the heir to the throne might say to me or what I might say to him. And that’s never happened and Prime Ministers never talk about that and quite rightly,” Johnson told reporters on Friday morning. For its part, Clarence House said it won’t be commenting on any supposed remarks except to say the prince is politically neutral.
JOIN THE TOUR
An emotional first day.
Prince Charles arrived in Rwanda on Tuesday night — the first member of the royal family to visit the country. While he’s here to represent the Queen at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), he organized a series of engagements around the main event.
One of Camilla’s strongest speeches yet.
The Duchess of Cornwall took center stage at the Commonwealth meeting on Thursday, as she pressed leaders to step up their efforts to prevent domestic violence. “There is power in this alliance. In the strength of our unity, we, the women and men of the Commonwealth, stand with victims and survivors, who, despite the temptation to hide away in silence, speak up so that others know they aren’t alone — whether in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Pacific or the Caribbean and Americas,” the future Queen said in her address. “In so doing, we have the opportunity to end gender-based violence and those laws and practices that discriminate against women. And each one of us must take personal responsibility not to let this opportunity be lost.”
Carrie Johnson, the wife of the UK Prime Minister, was among the attendees at the Kigali Convention Centre. While there may be reported tensions between their husbands, the two seemed delighted to see each other. Johnson warmly greeted the Duchess when she came over to her table during the event, the pair appearing relaxed as they chatted and laughed together.
PHOTOS OF THE WEEK
Tending to a mass grave at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where 250,000 victims of the massacres in 1994 rest.
On Wednesday, the royals laid a wreath in honor of the victims, along with a note that read: “In everlasting remembrance of those who died in the genocide against the Tutsi.” It was signed “Charles” and “Camilla.”
Max interviews Freddy Mutanguha, the site’s director and a genocide survivor himself.
In the memorial museum, family photographs of some of the victims fill a room.
Prince Charles views mass graves behind Nyamata Church, one of Rwanda’s six national genocide memorials. Here, 45,308 victims from the surrounding area are buried.
Within the church — which today stands as a memorial to the violence of 28 years ago — pews have been replaced with clothing and personal effects of the victims. Even now, bodies discovered elsewhere are being brought to the church, as former attackers identify other gravesites as part of the reconciliation process that began in 1999.
Charles chats with students and beneficiaries of his Prince’s Trust International at the Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre in Kigali on Thursday.
Later, he visited Umusambi Village, Kigali’s first and only wildlife sanctuary, during which he learned about conservation of the restored wetlands, the home of endangered gray crowned cranes, and planted a tree.
DID YOU KNOW?
During the trip, Prince Charles made sure to meet with students connected to his Prince’s Trust International (PTI) charity. The global organization was established in 2015 and has supported more than 45,000 young people in returning to education and preparing for their own careers.
Here in Rwanda, the charity has been working with local partners since 2020 and the Prince of Wales appeared delighted to speak to some of those he has been helping support. The royal made his way around several stalls featuring local products from young entrepreneurs and chatted animatedly with students before posing for a group photo.
Speaking before the event, 24-year-old hospitality student Regis told us it “means a lot” to welcome Charles on Thursday.
“I think it’s a privilege and honor for the prince to organize (to see) those people who he’s helping to get jobs,” he said with a huge grin on his face. “A lot of people want to meet him but they are not going to. But for us, it inspires us.”
Regis explained that he got involved with PTI as it has partnered with the African Management Institute here in Rwanda and has been helping him train and get internships in local hotels.
“Right now, from the trainings and every takeaway they give to us, now we start going with our career. And I think in three to five years I will have my own business… starting all the way from PTI,” he added.
WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING?
Royals praise Windrush generation at monument ceremony.
The Queen’s summer look.
William and Kate wow in first joint portrait.