The debate over how Africans should view the queen went viral when Uju Anya, a Nigeria-born professor at Carnegie Mellon University, posted a tweet in which she wished the Queen “excruciating” pain on her deathbed for overseeing a “thieving raping genocidal empire”. When criticism came – including from her own university and from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos – Anya doubled down.
“If anyone expects me to express anything but disdain for the monarch,” she wrote, “you can keep wishing upon a star.”
Her original tweet was removed by Twitter for violating the platform’s rules.
For some across the continent, the Queen was an admirable figure who represented continuity and balance in a changing world. In Ghana, tributes for “Maa Lizzy” were shared on Twitter.
“I grew to admire her over the years, just watching how she carried herself, and her commitment to what she committed to at 25,” said Yemi Adamolekun, executive director of Enough is Enough Nigeria, a network of organisations promoting good governance. “She just kept at it and I think there’s a lot to be admired in that regard.”
African leaders mourned the Queen’s passing and offered condolences to Britain and her family. The presidents of Kenya and Ghana also ordered that flags be flown at half-staff for several days, drawing pushback on social media.
Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president, wrote on Twitter that “The story of modern Nigeria will never be complete without a chapter on Queen Elizabeth II, a towering global personality and an outstanding leader.”
William Ruto, Kenya’s president-elect, called the Queen’s leadership of the Commonwealth “admirable”. The association, which was born out of the embers of the British Empire but has lost much of its earlier glory, has still attracted new members like Rwanda, Gabon and Togo, which have had no colonial connections to Britain.
For Naledi Mashishi, 27, whose South African grandmother was forced to sing the God Save the Queen anthem each day at school, Elizabeth will forever remain the face of the empire and its bitter legacy in Africa.
In the wake of the Queen’s death, Mashishi joined a legion of young South Africans demanding the return of the diamonds that form part of the crown jewels. Cut from the Cullinan, which was discovered in South Africa in 1905 and considered the largest diamond ever found, the rare gemstones sit atop the Imperial State Crown and the Sovereign Sceptre, which are both used during the coronation of the British monarch.
The stone was a gift from the Afrikaner government to King Edward VII after the South African War, also known as the Anglo-Boer War. But black South Africans have questioned a minority government’s right to bestow as a gift a gem uncovered during a time of brutal exploitation of black people. On her 21st birthday in 1947, the Queen made a speech from a still-segregated Cape Town, pledging her service to the Commonwealth.
“I think there’s something very disingenuous about saying the Queen or the current royal family have nothing to do with the past,” Mashishi said. “Meanwhile, they are still happily wearing these stolen jewels.”
But with the Queen’s passing, observers say that tough conversations about the empire’s past actions in Africa will only continue to gain steam.
“It’s way more than the diamonds,” said Lebohang Pheko, a political economist and a senior researcher at the Trade Collective, a South African think tank. “There are not going to be easy conversations around this anymore.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.