Africa sent presidents, prime ministers and one king to Queen Elizabeth II's funeral

Queen Elizabeth II’s state funeral in the UK today (Sept. 19) has drawn about 500 world leaders from more than 175 countries, including monarchs, presidents and prime ministers. Among the dignitaries are nearly two dozen from Africa, the continent where inquests into the former Queen’s legacy have been the most stinging.

Presidents Cyril Ramaphosa, Nana Akufo-Addo, and Paul Kagame of South Africa, Ghana, and Rwanda respectively are among the traveling party, reflecting the regional diversity of Africa’s delegation. However, the presence of Tanzania’s Samia Suluhu Hassan, and Kenya’s new helmsman WIlliam Ruto mean there is a uniquely east African feel to the continent’s farewell. Twenty-one of Africa’s 54 nations are members of the Commonwealth.

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Queen Elizabeth II’s last visit to Africa was to Uganda, for a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) in 2007. But Yoweri Museveni, the country’s 78-year-old president of nearly four decades, did not travel to her funeral though he expressed his condolences the day after she died on Sept. 8. Nigeria, arguably Britain’s most strategic Africa partner, was represented by its vice president Yemi Osinbajo.

Beyond presidents, Africa’s delegation to the funeral includes the prime ministers of Cameroon, and Mauritius. There’s also royalty in the mix: Letsie III, the king of the southern African nation Lesotho whose coronation was attended in 1997 by Charles III, the new British monarch.

Why travel for the Queen’s funeral?

One of the most shared pictures of African leaders in the UK for the funeral shows Kenya’s Ruto and Tanzania’s Hassan in a bus, apparently riding to Westminster Abbey in the company of other diplomats. It has elicited some jeering remarks.

With US president Joe Biden allowed to drive around town in his official limousine, some have questioned the decision by Africa’s presidents to appear as second class leaders on the world stage. Canary Mugume, a Ugandan journalist, described the bus ride as being akin to students riding to an amusement park.

For the leaders, however, the trip is an opportunity to be visible to international partners who could provide resources needed to meet local goals, as Ruto’s tweet suggests. The “hustler nation” president took over this month after a historic election but is already in a race against time to fix issues that ail the economy.

Rwanda hosted this year’s CHOGM, a five-day event that is perhaps now best remembered for a heated moment when president Kagame went off on a BBC journalist who questioned the former rebel leader’s values and human rights record. Kagame has been a proponent of cooperation with Britain: Visit Rwanda, the country’s tourism board, has been an official sponsor of the London-based Arsenal Football Club since 2018.

And perhaps more than all other African leaders who traveled, the presidents of Togo, and Gabon had reason to be there in the flesh. In June, both became the latest members of the Commonwealth, increasing the number of African countries in the voluntary 56-member body mostly consisting of former British colonies.