By Spy Uganda Correspondent
Prince Charles told Commonwealth leaders on Friday that the choice to become a republic or abandon the queen as head of state was theirs alone, and expressed “personal sorrow” at Britain’s legacy of slavery.
The British heir to the throne addressed the opening of a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Rwanda as the host nation faced scrutiny over its rights record and a much-criticised migrant deal with the UK.
Charles is representing Queen Elizabeth as the 54-nation club of mostly former British colonies grapples with questions over its future relevance and modern profile.
Republican movements are taking root in a number of Commonwealth nations and some are seeking reparations for colonial-era injustices like slavery.
Charles acknowledged the change underfoot and said the Commonwealth — which represents one-third of humanity — would always be “a free association of independent, self-governing nations”.
“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,” he told an audience of presidents and prime ministers.
He also acknowledged that the roots of the Commonwealth — which includes as members nations from Europe to Africa, Asia and the Americas — “run deep into the most painful period of our history”.
“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,” he said.
Prince Charles earlier on Friday met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has been defending his controversial deal to expel migrants from the UK thousands of miles away to Rwanda.
The scheme, which has stalled in the face of legal challenges, has been fiercely opposed by the UN, church leaders, rights groups and — reportedly — Prince Charles himself.
“I’m confident that the migration aspect will work very well,” Mr Johnson told British media in Kigali. “We’re going to continue with the policy and… the Rwanda partnership offers a good way forward.”
He earlier heaped praise on President Paul Kagame for the “leaps and bounds” achieved in Rwanda, despite widespread concerns over a lack of political freedom and civil liberties in the tiny African nation.
Rights groups have openly questioned the suitability of Rwanda hosting the Commonwealth, which has a charter that enshrines respect for democracy and human rights as core shared values.