Newest Commonwealth nation hits back at Harry and Netflix show claims

Anne Diamond slams the Harry & Meghan Netflix documentary

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Criticism of the Commonwealth in Meghan and Harry’s Netflix series has left residents from the organisation’s newest nation feeling “patronised” at the suggestion that they are “foolish” for joining. The organisation was Queen Elizabeth’s proudest achievement but comes under fire from commentators in the show saying it is just “Empire 2.0”.

Hitting back at those critics, Gabon’s high commissioner to the UK, Aichatou Sanni Aoudou, said: “To use a word Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, would have understood as a fluent speaker of our official language, we are more than a little “déçu” – disappointed.

“We are a small nation but we are a proud one.

“To think we would sign up blindly to be vassals to another empire is to suggest we are foolish. This is why many in Gabon would feel patronised by these remarks.

“We entered the Commonwealth last year with our eyes wide open. We did it to take our place in a confederacy of equals, because we see strength in diversity and because we acknowledge we have much to learn from others – and much to give.

“That is what the Commonwealth stands for and why we are proud to be a member.”

The first three episodes of the Netflix documentary have been watched by around two million people in the UK since it launched on Thursday, including by people within the Royal Household and at the headquarters of the Commonwealth in London.

In both places there was astonishment that the Sussexes used footage of the Queen to criticise Britain’s role in the Commonwealth.

The documentary showed footage of the late monarch at a Commonwealth summit in 2018, and a recording of her broadcasting to the British Empire in 1947.

It was interspersed with criticism of the organisation by writer Afua Hirsch and academic Kehinde Andrews, a professor of black studies at Birmingham City University.

Ms Hirsch said: “I sometimes call the Commonwealth ‘Empire 2.0’ because that is what it is.”

Professor Andrews, who has previously claimed that the Royal Family was deeply embedded in racism, insisted the Commonwealth had not changed from the days of Empire, adding: “If you look at the black people in the Commonwealth, well their conditions are almost just as bad as they were 50 or 100 years ago.”

Royal sources were exasperated that Harry was, in the words of one critic, “trashing the Queen’s life work” by using the Commmonwealth criticism in his TV series.

Another said: “That was astonishing. It really did strike at her legacy.”

At the Commonwealth headquarters in London, staff were puzzled as to why Harry and Meghan chose well-known British critics of the organisation and of the monarchy to appear in the series, instead of asking member nations why they joined.

And one Commonwealth source challenged the view that was put across in the Netflix series, that the Commonwealth is perpetuating the Empire.

He said: “This is very odd, a historic view that seems to ignore why our diverse member states freely joined the Commonwealth based on their shared values and what they gain from their membership.

“The new Commonwealth is led by our equal members and it is them that direct our work, decide on our priorities and benefit from our successes.”

The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, which was previously honoured to have Harry and Meghan as its president and vice-president, has distanced itself from them.

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Trust chief executive Chris Kelly said: “The Commonwealth is a voluntary association that supports peace, human rights, and democracy. The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust works across the Commonwealth to support young leaders who are transforming their communities.”

And experts say that Britain’s standing in the world and UK foreign policy has been damaged by the exiled couple’s involvement in the series criticising the monarchy and the Commonwealth, which is home to 2.6 billion people or a third of the world’s population.

David Haigh, chief executive of Brand Finance, which measures the value of UK soft power, said it would temporarily hurt the reputation of the monarchy and the Commonwealth in the US in particular and accused the couple of “sour grapes”.

But he insisted that Britain’s trade and ties with the Commonwealth would ultimately improve after Brexit, which Harry also criticised in the series.

Speaking about the Sussexes, he said: “Initially, they were extremely keen to be the Queen’s ambassadors in the Commonwealth. I think it was actually because he (Harry) saw it as an opportunity to spend more time in Africa.

“Now it looks like sour grapes. They are throwing bricks at it.”

He added that Britain and King Charles needed to reset their relationship with the Commonwealth.

Mr Haigh said: “Brexit gives us the opportunity to do that. Harry and Meghan’s actions are not helpful. It is damaging. But eventually, the UK will enjoy improved trade and relations with Commonwealth countries because leaving the EU will allow that. When the UK joined the EU in 1973 it had to loosen those ties.”

The King and his family are expected to visit Commonwealth countries, especially the 14 overseas realms where he is also monarch, next year to celebrate the new reign. They are also expected to adopt new approaches after criticism of Prince William and Kate’s tour of the Caribbean earlier this year.

King Charles, 74, and Queen Camilla, 75, have vowed to carry on as normal despite the upset caused by Harry and Meghan. 

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