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God save the King

BY: Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng
King Charles III
King Charles III

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

— William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, in Act II, Scene 2

These lines, which were drilled into our teenage heads in preparation for the Literature in English ‘O’ Level examination in secondary school back in June 1985, do capture perhaps one of the most brutal truths about a very fundamental aspect of our lives which many still fear.

Her Majesty

Of course, for totally understandable reasons, the death of Queen Elizabeth II of the UK went far beyond her family and her country and has taken a wall-to-wall coverage across several news outlets because of the several implications the death has had.

In Ghana, the Queen’s funeral poster would in all likelihood read “Celebration of Life’, due to her advanced age of 96 before passing on. Of course, in Akan societies, the funeral attire would be black and white, to highlight both thanksgiving for a life well led, and sorrow at her passing.

Prior to her death, I had read several reports of detailed arrangements that had been made as far back as 20 years ago for her eventual death, reviewed and updated regularly with her inputs and approval.

I also understand her husband Prince Philip, prior to his death last year at the age of 99, had made detailed plans and left instructions for his funeral.

I suppose that when one has lived to a ripe age, the acceptance of the fact of death lurking round the corner becomes less of a burden and almost something to look forward to, especially if one has lived a fulfilled life.

My paternal grandmother used to say before her departure in her mid-80s that she had taken her visa and was just waiting for her flight.

She claimed to be weary and tired of life, especially since most of her age mates had gone ahead of her and she was indoors most of the time, beset by one ailment or the other and totally dependent on others.

When the bones are weak and creaky and every little activity requires so much effort, death becomes a blessing one is willing to embrace.

On social media, Ghanaians have not been left out of the running commentary, from jokes about how the Brits are ‘terrible’ at organising funerals, compared to our mainly elaborate ones, especially among the Akans, and principally among the Asantes, to some rather serious commentary either way on the legacy not just of the Queen but the society she represents and the legacy of the bygone empire that she and her predecessors presided over.

An interesting trend in the commentary I have come across is a sense of self-loathing when it comes to a comparative analysis of how things are done in the UK and in Ghana following deaths, without any semblance of context.

Take, for instance, the near-clockwork manner in which things have evolved following the Queen’s death, including funeral arrangements and other protocols kicking in as soon as she died.

While many wax lyrical about these arrangements, it is also a fact, as noted earlier, that these protocols have been planned and revised and updated and cleared at the highest levels (including the Queen herself) for many years.

They do not just happen. In our society, where talk of another person’s death is almost a taboo, I wonder what we would make of news about detailed plans for the death of a sitting or past President.

Another interesting one is the inheritance system. In the UK, the Queen’s eldest son, Prince Charles, automatically became king the moment his mother died, and everyone knew this from the day he was born. In our Akan system, inheritance is not automatic for anyone because a successor is chosen from a pool of eligible candidates after a vetting process which includes several protocols.

Again you had people scoffing at this as inherently inferior.

But the British system means that however unsuitable the heir may be, he automatically became king.

Further, in times past, Prince Charles, knowing his mother was hanging on too long, would probably have engineered her death so that he could be king. Indeed, English history is replete with lots of bloody examples of regicide or elimination of heirs by their family members with an eye on the throne.

Our system, for all its challenges, eliminates patently unsuitable kings and over-ambitious royals with murderous inclinations.

Legacy

Understandably, there are mixed sentiments on how to process the Queen’s death. For some, she represents nothing but a brutal, feudal, dead empire that stood for colonial subjugation of others, brutalities, genocide, pillage of other countries’ resources and a familial monopoly of reigning simply by the accident of birth, and that it is of no consequence that she is dead.

Particularly, people from that dead empire, including Ghanaians, should not be saddened over the death of a woman who represented such evil, nor be enamoured by any of the processes and events that surround her death.

While I accept the brutal reality of the history of British colonialism and all of its evil, I am not quite able to summon any bile in my throat in repugnance.

Of course, I do not pretend to weep and mourn more than the English royalist from Henley-on-Thames or rural Devon, nor would

I have rushed to camp outside the gates of Buckingham Palace in grief if I were presently in London.

I must admit I am fascinated by all royal systems, particularly the Asante one, with their intricate and fascinating complexities and histories.

The past remains in the past and cannot be erased though it has enduring lessons for the present and the future. We can ill-afford hanging on to the past and wallowing in being victims and in self pity. Today, India, a former British colony, is different both in its geography and standing in the world, negotiating its relationship not with bitterness but within the context of the reality of the 21st Century. Brazil too is a former colony, as are Indonesia and Malaysia. Brazil is a former Portuguese colony. I believe we have run out of excuses.

The reality is that the UK has evolved from its sordid, past and rigid class-ridden strictures to try to make the country a better place to live in far more ways than can be said of many of its former colonies.

This is not just in its economic indicators arising out of profiting from the resources of her former colonies, but also in building a more compassionate and inclusive society for all, including non-indigenes.

I find no difficulty whatsoever in acknowledging the evil colonial past of the UK and still raising a glass of ice-cold beer to wish its new king well.

After all, my beloved Asanteman is not exactly clothed in glory throughout all its history.

The Queen is dead. God save the King.

Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng, Head, Communications & Public Affairs Unit, Ministry of Energy, Accra. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.