NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — King Charles III is in Kenya for his first state visit to a Commonwealth country as monarch. Buckingham Palace said he will acknowledge the “painful aspects” of Britain and Kenya’s shared history while underscoring his commitment to an organization that’s been central to the U.K.’s global power since World War II.
The four-day visit is full of symbolism. Charles’ mother, the late Queen Elizabeth II, learned that she had become the U.K. monarch while visiting a game preserve in the East African nation — at the time a British colony — in 1952.
The king and Queen Camilla touched down in the capital, Nairobi, late Monday and were given a ceremonial welcome Tuesday by Kenyan President William Ruto at State House. Charles later planted an African fern tree seedling in its lawn.
The royal couple also visited the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at gardens named Uhuru, which is Swahili for freedom. The king and Ruto laid wreaths, then proceeded to the site of the declaration of Kenya’s independence in 1963.
Comments by the king and Kenya’s president were not immediately made available.
During Charles’ visit to a public library, U.K Foreign Secretary James Cleverly announced 4.5 million pounds ($5.5 million) in new funding to support education reforms in Kenya.
Cleverly noted that Kenya’s schools were important to the U.K. as “the father of our prime minister went to Highway Secondary School here in Nairobi.”
Kenya is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its independence this year. It and Britain have enjoyed a close but sometimes challenging relationship after the prolonged struggle against colonial rule, sometimes known as the Mau Mau Rebellion, in which thousands of Kenyans died.
Colonial authorities resorted to executions and detention without trial as they tried to put down the insurrection, and thousands of Kenyans said they were beaten and sexually assaulted by agents of the administration.
The British High Commission said Charles would “meet veterans and give his blessing to efforts by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to ensure Kenyans and Africans who supported British efforts in the World Wars are properly commemorated.”
Salim David Nganga, 64, said the king ought to apologize to Kenyans first.
“The king should never have been allowed to step in this country, considering the dark history of British colonialists,” he said, speaking at the capital’s Jevanjee Gardens, where colonial statues were brought down in 2020.
The king’s visit reignited some tensions over land in parts of Kenya.
Joel Kimutai Kimetto, 74, said his grandfather and father were kicked out of their ancestral home by the British.
“What is most painful is that years after the brutalities and the stealing of our land, British companies are still in possession of our ancestral homes, earning millions from their comfortable headquarters in the U.K., while our people remain squatters,” he told the AP in a phone interview. “We ask President William Ruto and our leaders to use this golden opportunity to address our plight with the king.”
Elsewhere, a planned protest and press conference by victims of a fire at a conservancy in central Kenya that was allegedly started by British soldiers in training was canceled ahead of the king’s visit.
The victims’ lawyer, Kelvin Kubai, told the AP on Monday that they arrived at the hotel where they were to hold the press conference and were informed that police had issued a cancellation notice. He said he found a heavy police presence around the hotel.
Another group of protesters briefly chanted anti-British songs and threw red roses at the foot of a monument to Mau Mau veteran Dedan Kimathi in Nairobi’s central business district on Tuesday afternoon. A contingent of uniformed and plain-clothed police officers dispersed the group.
“Just because the king is in Kenya, police have denied us our constitutional right to protest peacefully,” Juliet Wanjira, one of the organizers, said.
Charles also plans to visit Nairobi National Park and meet with environmental activist Wanjira Mathai, the daughter of late Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai, as he emphasizes his commitment to environmental protection.
The royal family has long ties to Africa. In 1947, the future Queen Elizabeth II pledged lifelong service to Britain and the Commonwealth during a speech from South Africa on her 21st birthday. Five years later, she and her husband Prince Philip were visiting Aberdare National Park in Kenya when they learned that her father had died and she had become queen.