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Baby elephants and a plastic throne: Here are the standout moments from King Charles' trip to Kenya

A state visit to Kenya was always going to be a poignant and somewhat difficult trip for King Charles III. His first visit to a Commonwealth country after the death of Queen Elizabeth II and his ascension to the throne was to the very country where his mother found out she was going to be Queen.

This trip marks his first visit to a Commonwealth country after the death of Queen Elizabeth II and his ascension to the throne on Sept. 8. It was also during his mother’s trip to Kenya in 1952 that she discovered she was going to be queen.

The then-princess was staying at the Treetops Hotel in the Aberdare National Park when she found out her father, King George VI, had died, and the throne would pass to her.

A trip to the Treetops Hotel was not on the cards for King Charles and Queen Camilla during their four-day visit to Kenya this week. But the royal couple’s trip did involve a welcome by Kenyan President William Ruto at State House, followed by a visit to Uhuru Gardens National Monument and Museum, where the King laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.

The royal couple also walked through the Tunnel of Martyrs, which shares the stories of those who died in several national events, including the country’s struggle for independence.

On Wednesday, the King and Queen visited the Kariokor War Cemetery, where they met with Kenyan war veterans who fought for the British in the Second World War as part of the King’s African Rifles. On Thursday, the royal couple observed a drill by an elite unit of British-trained Kenyan marines and visited environmental project sites in the coastal city of Mombasa.

Acknowledging 'painful aspects' of the past

The King and Queen’s trip to Kenya reopened old wounds of painful past abuses committed during British colonial rule in the 1950s. Ahead of the trip, the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) called on King Charles to offer an “unequivocal public apology” for colonial abuses during his visit to Kenya.

In a press release issued Oct. 29, the organization said, “We call upon the King on behalf of the British government to issue an unconditional and unequivocal public apology (as opposed to the very cautious, self-preserving and protective statements of regrets) for the brutal and inhuman treatment inflicted on Kenyan citizens.”

During the Kenya Emergency from 1952 to 1960, at the height of the country’s fight for independence, British soldiers forced more than one million Kenyans into concentration camps. Here, they were subjected to torture, rape and dehumanising treatment. According to the KHRC, 90,000 Kenyans were killed or maimed during this period.

However, during a speech at a banquet held in his honour, King Charles III stopped short of an apology, instead referring to Britain’s “abhorrent and unjustifiable acts of violence” committed against Kenyans during their fight for independence, going on to express his “greatest sorrow” and “deepest regret” for the “wrongdoings of the past.”

While addressing President Ruto at the banquet, the King said, “It matters greatly to me that I should deepen my own understanding of these wrongs, and that I meet some of those whose lives and communities were so grievously affected.” This comes as Kenya marks its 60th anniversary of independence from Britain this year.

While the King acknowledged his state visit may not be able to change the past, addressing both countries’ shared history may “demonstrate the strength of our friendship today.”

“In so doing, we can, I hope, continue to build an ever-closer bond for the years ahead,” the King said.

While President Ruto commended the King’s “exemplary courage” in recognizing “uncomfortable truths,” he described the British administration’s reaction to African struggles as “monstrous in its cruelty.” Ruto added that “much remains to be done in order to achieve full reparations.”

In 2013, the British government reached an out-of-court settlement with more than 5,200 Kenyans involved in a class-action lawsuit over the abuses committed during the emergency period. The £20-million (C$33.8-million) payout, accompanied by a “statement of regret” from the British government, followed an 11-year legal battle and campaign initially filed by five elderly Kenyans.

King Charles’ approach in Kenya could be indicative of how he plans to broach issues of British atrocities during colonial rule in many other Commonwealth countries in the future, as well as the monarchy’s involvement in slavery. In the past, the King and his son, Prince William, have both stopped short of apologizing for these actions. Despite this, calls for the Royal Family to issue formal apologies are becoming louder and more persistent.

Away from these issues, the King and Queen’s time in Kenya was a whirlwind of engagements, taking in national culture and supporting conservation projects. Here are my top five standout moments from the trip, which ran from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3:

Queen Camilla feeding an adorable baby elephant

Queen Camilla was certainly taken by a herd of orphaned elephants at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, on the outskirts of Nairobi National Park. She was given the opportunity to watch the young elephants, which had all been rescued from the wild, as they trotted into the paddock for feeding time. The Queen was then given the opportunity to feed some milk to a one-year-old calf named Mzinga. The wildlife trust is home to dozens of elephants that have lost their mothers to poaching or sickness.

Queen Camilla feeds a baby elephant milk from a bottle during a visit to the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, on Nov. 1, 2023. (Luis Tato, Pool via AP)

Queen offers nod to wildlife with her fashion choices

On her visit to the elephant orphanage, the Queen wore a cream-coloured dress with embroidered giraffes by designer Anna Valentine before swapping her heels for brown boots to feed the adorable Mzinga.

Queen Camilla visits the equine welfare charity, Brooke, to learn how Brooke and the Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animals are working together towards the protection of donkeys and promoting their welfare, in Karen District of Nairobi, Kenya, on Nov. 1, 2023. (Thomas Mukoya/Pool Photo via AP)

King Charles III almost trips – but plays it cool

The King nearly took a tumble as he tripped on a roll of artificial grass during his visit to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in Nairobi. The King was being guided from one walkway to another when he tripped over one of the mats and briefly lost his footing. He quickly managed to catch himself, smoothly put on his sunglasses and continued to stroll along the grass.

King Charles III (3rd R) and Queen Camilla during a visit to a Commonwealth War Graves Kariokor Cemetery in Nairobi on Nov. 1, 2023. (Photo by Tony KARUMBA / POOL / AFP) (Photo by TONY KARUMBA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

King receives an unusual throne

The King looked thrilled when members of an East African environmental organization presented him with a throne made entirely out of recycled plastic at Mombasa's Nyali Beach. Flipflopi, a non-profit organization, uses everything from plastic bottles to flip flops to upcycle a variety of objects into heritage products, even creating a seven-ton sailing dhow made entirely from recycled plastic.

King Charles III (CR) meets members of Flipflopi, a movement which aims to end single use plastic, transforming and upcycling litter to preserve the marine and environment and create products rooted in heritage, during a visit to Nyali beach on Nov. 2, 2023 in Mombasa, Kenya. (Photo by Ben Stansall - Pool/Getty Image)

Queen Camilla loves to shop

On a visit to a donkey sanctuary in Nairobi, Queen Camilla purchased so many items that her aides actually ran out of money, according to a report from the Telegraph. The Queen was seen purchasing a bag and a blanket, as well as some bracelets, earrings and cashew butter from stalls set up at the sanctuary. The site is managed by the Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animals in partnership with Brooke East Africa, a charity the Queen is president of. Well, that’s her Christmas shopping sorted…

Queen Camilla, centre, visits the equine welfare charity, Brooke, to learn how Brooke and the Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animals are working together towards the protection of donkeys and promoting their welfare, in Karen District of Nairobi, Kenya, on Nov. 1, 2023. (Thomas Mukoya/Pool Photo via AP) Top Stories

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