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How relevant is the Commonwealth of Nations today?


When King Charles II is crowned as king this Saturday, he's not only becoming the king of the United Kingdom. He's also becoming head of state of 14 other countries, or realms, as they're known in the Commonwealth of Nations.


But their future is uncertain. Barbados cast off the monarchy in 2021, with Rihanna in attendance, along with then-Prince Charles.


PRESIDENT SANDRA MASON: Declare Barbados a parliamentary republic.

SUMMERS: Other countries have already said they'll follow suit. Here's Jamaica's prime minister, Andrew Holness, speaking earlier this year.


PRIME MINISTER ANDREW HOLNESS: Please move ahead with speed and alacrity on this matter. Jamaica must become a republic.

OPAL PALMER ADISA: I'm definitely for leaving the monarchy and for Jamaica becoming a republic.

PFEIFFER: Opal Palmer Adisa is a poet and activist in Kingston. She says Britain's colonial legacy in the Caribbean is troubling and deeply entangled with slavery.

ADISA: If the British expect to have a congenial, equal relationship with people of African descent, then they must apologize and admit the dehumanizing impact of 500 years of colonialization.

SUMMERS: Adisa says Jamaica's transition to a republic is a long time coming. Another advocate, Rosalea Hamilton, says George Floyd's murder accelerated the push.

ROSALEA HAMILTON: When the world watched a white policeman standing on the neck of a Black man in the U.S., Jamaicans woke up to the reality that we have a governor general that's wearing an insignia with a white angel standing on the head of a Black man.

PFEIFFER: There are calls are echoed in neighboring Saint Lucia, where we find journalist Earl Bousquet.

EARL BOUSQUET: The royal family is lagging behind in its understanding and appreciation of the depth of its unpopularity within the Commonwealth and among Commonwealth citizens.

PFEIFFER: Bousquet expects Saint Lucia to become a republic within a few years.

SUMMERS: And across the world in the Pacific, New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said this week he thinks his country will someday become fully independent, just not right now.


PRIME MINISTER CHRIS HIPKINS: I don't think that changing - swapping out the governor-general for some other form of head of state is necessarily an urgent priority right now, though.

PFEIFFER: Regardless of whether countries stay or leave, Rosalea Hamilton in Jamaica says the Commonwealth needs to change.

HAMILTON: It's an anachronistic institution that needs to be modernized. It needs to be relevant to the modern world.

SUMMERS: She says that includes a greater reckoning with the Commonwealth's colonial past.

(SOUNDBITE OF KILLER MIKE SONG, "RUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linah Mohammad
Prior to joining NPR in 2022, Mohammad was a producer on The Washington Post's daily flagship podcast Post Reports, where her work was recognized by multiple awards. She was honored with a Peabody award for her work on an episode on the life of George Floyd.