My name is Wanjiru and I am proud to have been a Rhodes Scholar. Kenya and St Edmund's College Cambridge, 1998, since you ask.
If I had met Cecil Rhodes the first thing I would have said to him is 'thank you for funding my education'. I'm very polite that way. I was raised to have good manners, always to say please and thank you. So, thank you Mr Rhodes!
With the pleasantries out of the way, we could go on to compare our adventures. He could tell me how he appropriated a chunk of Africa and gave it his name, and I could recount how I appropriated a little corner of England where I love to sit in the garden among the late-blooming pink roses and read books. Seems fair to me, that if an African woman can make her home in England then an English man can make his home in Africa.
Next up would be the matter of his imperialism. It is fashionable nowadays to pretend to be very interested in the true historical facts about the misdeeds of imperialists. Like a Newsnight Inquisitor: "Tell me Mr Rhodes, just how evil a man would you say you were? How sorry and ashamed are you now for what you did?" We want to know the facts about how evil they were, all the rude things they said about other races, so we can shake down their heirs for some compensation, maybe a bit of power-sharing, maybe even some expropriation to equalise things and correct historical wrongs. But historical wrongs do not justify new wrongs.
This does not mean being so happy with the status quo that we consider imperialism to be 'worth it' for all the great legacies it yielded.
Nor, we might add, should we use the old wounds to justify new forms of evil, as pay-back for the old forms of evil.
The real aim of historical fact-finding and plaque-shaming imperialists is to gather ammunition with which now to take aim at the British in order to support the case for Socialism and Reparations and new forms of Equity that are nothing more than a mask for vengeance and retribution. The plaque-shaming 'retain and explain' missions are selective. They're digging for dirt to throw at historical monuments. They are not interested in highlighting all the relevant facts.
If you already know the truth about socialism (it doesn't work), and have formed your own view about those begging for their reparations (shameful), there is no need to feign an interest in this historical fact-checking charade. So we can skip pretending to debate whether Rhodes was a good man or a bad man, and instead reflect on other aspects of his legacy.
Many Rhodes Scholars went on to be Kings and Princes and Presidents of great countries. They are rich and famous and powerful. But I rather think that because he endowed education Rhodes would like to know that many more scholars went quietly into scholarship. There are many ways to be a leader, not all of which involve fame and fortune. It may even be that in the end the legacy of Empire which he wished to preserve will be defended not by the power-mongers who have all embraced the Woke and denounced him (while keeping his money, of course) but by those who came to believe in the ideals which underpin the scholarship and learning he funded: the ideals of reason, rationality, free speech and open debate.
Perhaps Rhodes would also be amused to hear how I ended up in Cambridge rather than Oxford. Being a man of his time, he laboured under the shocking historical delusion that the Oxford experience is unique. You can't blame him for that. Long ago they thought differently about such things. He probably thought of Cambridge as nothing more than a less illustrious little brother (it's an ancient feud). In these enlightened times nobody holds Oxford in that sort of uncritical regard. The Equality Act tells us that all universities are now to be regarded as equal. But Rhodes would, I'm sure, agree that it's just as well because Oxford is now ashamed to be associated with him. A plaque has been installed to give 'context' to his statue at Oriel College. The plaque declaims in the immortal words of frightened cowards everywhere: It wasn't us, we never!
Well, Mr Rhodes, your legacy has taken a very different path from that which you might have predicted. But then, being a great adventurer, you would be used to life's odd little twists and turns and I hope that the Wokie Tokies dancing around your statue will not trouble you unduly. I wonder if you knew that one day the vultures would come circling round the hilltop where you chose to lie buried. Rest easy, Son of Africa. In the end, the only place a legacy can truly endure is in the hearts of those who embrace it.
Scholar, Writer, Friend