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How the Queen influenced Kaunda at the Lusaka CHOGM, 1979

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by Trevor Grundy                                                                                     

London – – –  Politics is supposed to be a ‘no go’ zone for the British monarch. But a new book by Commonwealth expert Philip Murphy (pictured) discloses how Queen Elizabeth 11 used royal clout to persuade President Kenneth Kaunda and his main political adviser in 1979, Mark Chona, to drop parts of a planned speech which could have given offence to people who didn’t like to hear men like Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo referred to as “freedom fighters.”

Professor Murphy is the director of the London-based Institute of Commonwealth Studies and he tells in his new book Monarchy and the End of Empire (Oxford University Press, 2014) how now and again the queen exerts ”a tangible influence over British foreign policy.”

In a chapter which reveals little known aspects of the preparation for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in Lusaka from August 1-7, 1979, Murphy says that the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was ”notoriously  cautious” about the prospect of the Queen travelling to Zambia.

There were also strong suspicions that Thatcher did not want the Queen embroiled in a Commonwealth row which had plagued the organization since Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence on November 11, 1965.

But, says Murphy, (page 140) the British government’s ostensible concerns about the Queen’s safety also had a strategic purpose.

Bryan Cartledge, the British prime minister’s private secretary with responsibility for foreign affairs, expressed Thatcher’s belief that it was essential to make President Kaunda do something about the ground-to-air missiles in guerrilla hands in advance to the CHOGM in Lusaka. He wrote: “If the missiles could once be taken away from the guerrillas, it might prove possible to ensure that they did not receive any more. The Queen’s visit to Zambia, and the conference in Lusaka, was strong cards which should be used to put pressure on Kaunda.”

Nine days later, Thatcher told Lombe Chibesakunda, the Zambian High Commissioner in London, about her concern for the Queen’s safety and the possibility that such deadly weapons might be used for an attack on the Queen’s plane.  Thatcher said that while her government was doing everything possible to reassure “doubters” that Elizabeth would be safe, the final reassurance could only come from President Kaunda if he were to ensure that all missiles were removed from the guerrilla forces in Zambia and that no maverick fired one.

Sir Walter ‘Len’ Allinson was the British High Commissioner in Zambia. He was recalled to London to advise Thatcher in person about this issue. His advice was that the Queen’s visit should go ahead but that a military team should be sent out to Zambia to review the security situation. This was duly dispatched and  led by Air Vice Marshal Reed Purvis.

While he was there, the Rhodesians carried out an audacious raid by helicopter on Joshua Nkmo’s intelligence headquarters in Lusaka. Zambian anti-aircraft guns failed to fire on the Rhodesian helicopters. But they did open fire on their own planes which appeared a few minutes after the Rhodesians had departed.

The following morning, the British military team had a meeting with Kaunda who, writes Murphy, ”was suddenly far more conciliatory, and a member of the British military mission was subsequently stationed at Lusaka airport with direct contact with Zambian anti-aircraft batteries to ensure that no similar errors occurred as the Queen’s plane approached.”

In addition to security concerns, two matters of protocol intervened to complicate the Queen’s visit to Lusaka.

The Zambians let it be known that they wanted Joshua Nkomo to be included in the line-up to meet the Queen upon her arrival in Lusaka.

Murphy writes: “They initially backed down in the face of British objections but the night before the Queen’s arrival, Allison learned that Nkomo was indeed to be included in the line-up. He approached Mark Chona, Kaunda’s political assistant, and warned that if plans went  ahead for Nkomo’s inclusion he would telegram the Queen’s party in Botswana and ensure that she would not fly to Lusaka. In the face of this threat, Kaunda again retreated and Nkomo was not included in the line-up.”

A second problem related to the speech Kaunda planned to make at the state banquet for the Queen. Allison had been shown a copy of the speech and he warned that some of what the Zambian leader planned to say would be unacceptable to the British.  Allison briefed the Queen and others in the royal party about the problem. Says Murphy :”This is an unusual cases in which we have evidence of a direct and important intervention by the Queen.“

Her private secretary Philip Moore later wrote: “The Queen intervened personally with the President. When we arrived at Lusaka Len Allsion reported to me that while he had been able to persuade the President not to present Mr Nkomo on Her Majesty’s arrival, he thought that the only way in which he could get the offending passages removed from Kaunda’s speech was for the Queen to speak to him personally. This the Queen did in the motor car and later that evening, Mark Chona came to see me to say that the President had agreed to make all the amendments for which we had asked.”

The rest we know.

The Lusaka summit paved the way for a final settlement to the problem of Rhodesia, based on a constitutional conference in London in December 1979, a ceasefire by the (short-lived) Patriotic Front and elections involving all parties in February 1980 which were won by Robert Mugabe’s Zanu (PF).

Murphy does not tell the reader what were the offending passages“ but during an interview I had with him at his London office, I asked if the words the Queen objected to were Kaunda’s references to “ freedom fighters”, who Thatcher insisted in calling“terrorists.”

Murphy believes that the Queen’s objections were about Kaunda’s planned rhetoric. He told me:  “I think he was going to talk about freedom fighters in relationship to ZANU (Mugabe) and ZAPU (Nkomo) and there was a sense that that would be inflammatory to some of the sides in the negotiations.”

(Trevor Grundy worked for the Times of Zambia between 1974-1976 in Lusaka. During that time  he was also the Zambian correspondent for the Financial  Times and the BBC’s Focus on Africa).

Photo: Philip Murphy, director of the Institute for Commonwealth Studies (Picture: Trevor Grundy)

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