King Charles Doesn’t Fully Apologize to Kenyans

The controversy over King Charles’s remarks in Kenya this week highlights the difference between a “full-blown” apology and a statement of regret. King Charles sounded quite sincere when he noted, “The wrongdoings of the past are the source of greatest sorrow and deepest regret” regarding colonial atrocities by British forces in Kenya in the 1950s. But he is being faulted for failing to deliver an apology – so, what’s missing?

The 4 R’s are a good way to summarize the elements of an effective apology:

  1. Remorse/regret
  2. Responsibility for a specific act
  3. Restitution/repair
  4. Reform behavior

King Charles nailed the first element, the remorse or regret. But the second element is missing. This is not surprising, since King Charles was not personally responsible for those wrongs, and an apology on behalf of a group for wrongs it committed when one was a child is complicated. He did address one aspect of “responsibility,” which is to name the wrong done. King Charles is not denying that the British military committed “abhorrent and unjustifiable acts of violence against Kenyans.” Acknowledging the harm done pushes this beyond a mere statement of regret, even if it’s not a full apology.

Prior to the King’s visit to Kenya, the Kenya Human Rights Commission – perhaps anticipating this less-than-satisfactory result — called on King Charles to offer an “unconditional and unequivocal public apology (as opposed to the very cautious, self-preserving and protective statements of regrets).” The king chose to limit his statement to regrets. The BBC reports that a formal apology would have to be decided by government ministers. So perhaps, under the circumstances, the king went as far as he could towards a full apology.

Many Kenyans would say that another missing element is the third one, a promise of reparations. They would say the king missed two out of the three components they were hoping to hear. While this would also require government action, some suggest the king could donate to Kenya from his own personal treasury. The king apparently isn’t prepared to do that, but he did offer a different form of “repair,” by noting that he plans to study this topic to deepen his own understanding.