By Owei Lakemfa
Rishi Sunak, 42, walked into 10 Downing Street, London this Tuesday, October 25, 2022 as the youngest Prime Minister of ancient Britain. He is the third occupant of that residence within 51 days. But perhaps the most said about his rise, is not his capability or ability, education or competence, vision or ideas.
Rather, that he is the first man of colour to take up residence in that famous address. This is quite a slippery road to take. Perhaps it is meant that Sunak is not, at least originally, an Englishman. It is said he is Indian, of Asian origins. Not really.
Yes, his forbears came from Punjab, but his father, Yashvir was a Kenyan born under colonialism. His mother, Usha, was Tangayikan, before that country merged with Zanzibar to become present day Tanzania. So, his parents were Africans and they met neither in Africa nor Asia, but in England where the new Prime Minister was born British.
What can be said about Sunak is that unlike one of his predecessors, Boris Johnson, he does not try to be more English than the English. Johnson was the grandson of a Turk, Ali Kemal Bey, from Kalfat and his father, Stanley Kemal, adopted the name of their maternal grandmother, Margaret Johnson.
A man, who unlike Johnson, does not need to strive to be more English than the English is King Charles III. He is the Monarch who in his first two months on the British throne, has had two Prime Ministers. As I watched the likeable Monarch and Sunak smile, and, against the background of peoples origins, I reflected that King Charles is of Normandy, northern France ancestry.
That his late mother, Queen Elizabeth II, was a descendant of William of Normandy who was the Duke of Normandy from 1035-1087. In 1066, he crushed the English led by King Harold II in the Battle of Hastings, and, having conquered the English, became known as William the Conqueror or William the Bastard. After his victory, he installed himself on the English throne taking the title, King William I. Until this day, his descendants, including Charles III, sit on the British throne. But, wait a minute, do you know William the Normand was not French? No, he was a Viking, Scandinavian ancestry.
Before I forget, while Sunak’s father was Kenyan of Indian ancestry, King Charles III’s father, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was a Greek. He came from Corfu, in Greece. His father, Prince Andrew was the younger brother of King Constantine of Greece. The mother of Prince Philip, was German. The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle whose love moved Prince Harry from Britain, has just revealed that she is 43 per cent Nigerian. What does that change? For me, nothing. It is just like President Barack Obama being of African origin, did not change America’s policies towards our continent and did not stop his Presidency deliberately destroying Libya, turning it from a very rich nation into a basket case.
His administration’s destruction of that beautiful African state, released the waters of the huge dam of terrorists and their weapons which flooded the Sahel. This is mainly responsible for terrorists flooding countries like Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Cameroun, Chad and Nigeria. It is not that the showers of terrorism were not present in these places but I am referring to the huge volume of terrorists rain and the subsequent floods.
I have gone through this route to make the point that we all have our origins. So the narrative of the new British Prime Minister should not be primarily his ancestry, but his ideology and what he represents. The fact that the Tory Party is in disarray and turned to Sunak is not due to his ancestry, or a blackmail of the British establishment at one of its lowest points. This whitewash was not planned.
Rather, it is his conservative ideology, which if anything, would be injurious to people of colour. For instance, he pledged to press through the programme of bundling illegal migrants and asylum seekers to detention in Rwanda. It is an inhuman policy presented as the ‘Migration and Economic Development Partnership’ under which asylum seekers arriving in Britain are sent on a one-way ticket for “processing” in that African country either to claim asylum there or seek it in a third country. For this, Rwanda is to be paid 120 million pounds apart from the processing fees. Yet, the largest group to be affected are from India.
This scheme reminds me of the infamous Australian system of sending asylum seekers who attempt to reach the country by boat, to detention in Papua New Guinea. It is not called detention but ‘processing’ and this can take up to seven years after which the victims are ready to sign any agreement thrust in their faces. The war in Ukraine has led to high inflation in some European countries and triggered mass protests in countries, including the United Kingdom, UK. But Sunak promises to increase defence spending, redouble spending on Ukraine and “reinforce our policy of total support for Ukraine that Boris has so ably led”.
However, the international problem Sunak has is not Russia. The new poster boy of an integrated, multinational and culturally assimilated Great Britain, sees China as the obstacle to universal peace and prosperity. He declares: “China and the Chinese Communist Party represent the largest threat to Britain and the world’s security and prosperity this century”. Did Brexit cause part of the current economic crises in the United Kingdom? Sunak, who backed Brexit in the 2016 referendum believing it will grow the economy, does not think so. Therefore, he would further the divide and hopes to make the divorce from the European Union irreversible.
If a country goes through the severe shocks the UK has undergone and the Conservative Party, which is like the bus conveying the country to its destination, is faulty, it is logical to stop and effect needed repairs to prevent further breakdowns; but the party prefers to change drivers. Two months ago it changed from Boris Johnson to Elizabeth Truss, now to Rishi Sunak.
Its determination is to drive the country until January 2025 when new general elections would be held. British democracy is so beautiful that when the people make a choice by voting a political party into power, even if that party becomes an albatross, they are expected to do nothing but grumble and wait for the general elections which holds every quinquennial.
Who knows whether Sunak will be lucky enough to drive the Conservative Party bus to the next elections without it breaking down. But these are times Britain needs leaders who are full of ideas, vision, decisive and pro-people. I miss Jeremy Corbyn.
Owei Lakemfa, a former secretary general of Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU), is a human rights activist, journalist, and author.