The majority of the 54 heads of state from Africa, Europe, Asia, and Southern America descended on Kigali between June 20 and 25 for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. The conference’s goals and constraints are examined by Commonwealth history professor Philip Murphy.
What does Commonwealth mean?
There are 54 independent members of the Commonwealth. Although Mozambique, which joined in 1995, and Rwanda, which joined in 2009, do not share this historical connection to the UK, the majority of them were originally under British administration. In addition to Malta and Cyprus, which are also members of the European Union, there are 19 Commonwealth states in Africa, eight in Asia, three in Europe, 13 in the Caribbean and the Americas, and eleven in the Pacific.
Their population and size range widely. With populations under 1.5 million, tiny states make up the majority of Commonwealth members (32). India, the most populated Commonwealth nation, has 1.4 billion people as opposed to this. More over half of the 2.5 billion Commonwealth residents reside in India.
The total GDP of all Commonwealth nations was projected to be $13.1 trillion in 2021.
As a sign of their unique relationship, members of the Commonwealth refer to their diplomatic offices in other Commonwealth states as “high commissioners” rather than embassies. The Commonwealth is frequently referred to as a “family of nations.”
Kagame and Prince Charles. The Queen was represented by the Prince of Wales.
What priorities does the Commonwealth have?
The Commonwealth is concerned with a wide range of topics. These topics include gender equality, international development, good governance, human rights, and the rule of law, in addition to climate change and deforestation.
Both a strength and a weakness may be seen in this. It implies that it addresses the various national interests of its constituent countries. However, it finds it nearly impossible to concentrate its efforts on one or two key problems where it may actually make a difference. The less wealthy Commonwealth nations have emphasized the necessity of addressing global inequality and fostering development, while the more wealthy nations have tended to favor an emphasis on commerce and good governance.
Warm words have generally been said in response to all of these challenges, but there has been a glaring lack of coordinated action. The lack of a specific and actionable agenda for head of government meetings reflects this. They instead have “themes,” which are meant to be all-encompassing. Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming is the summit’s theme for 2022.
Since our previous meeting, four significant years have passed. The Commonwealth hasn’t done much to offer solutions to the unprecedented problems the world has faced. Therefore, the organization’s supporters are hoping that the summit in Kigali would provide those factors a much-needed boost.
What are some of the real success stories for the organization?
The campaign to end white minority rule in southern Africa was the topic that kept the Commonwealth focused, invigorated, and newsworthy from the 1960s through the 1990s.
As a result, British governments frequently faced accusations that they were impeding efforts by the rest of the Commonwealth to exert pressure on the governments of South Africa and Rhodesia. Even while the organization rarely had a unified strategy, it can unquestionably claim a significant role in the global struggle against apartheid.
The Commonwealth has highlighted its accomplishments in advancing democracy among its member states more recently. Although the organization is no longer willing to accept military dictatorships or one-party systems, some of its members, including the country hosting the 2022 Summit, have a dismal track record of allowing opposition movements to function without interference.
How are its rulings carried out?
The Commonwealth faces challenges in this area as well. Members are not legally obligated by its decisions because it is not a treaty-based organization. There has never been a readiness on the part of members to cede authority back to the Commonwealth Secretariat, which serves as the organization’s coordinating body, as it was born out of the disintegration of the British Empire.
host Kagame as president.
The Commonwealth established the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group in 1995 to keep an eye on adherence to those ideals as the Commonwealth began to present itself more and more as a group united by common values rather than a shared history. The group has the authority to suggest the suspension or expulsion of member nations. However, because it is so simple for members to leave the Commonwealth without suffering any immediate consequences, the group has shown reluctance to hold members accountable, even in the case of the most egregious transgressions of the organization’s standards.
How will the Kigali meeting’s success be evaluated?
Even while the organization makes statements about a wide range of international topics, Commonwealth heads of government meetings frequently focus more on strictly internal issues, which is a recurring challenge for the organization. The gathering in 2022 won’t be any different.
The Commonwealth secretary-general Patricia Scotland, who is running for re-election, was the subject of media attention. Secretaries-general typically hold office for two four-year terms, and it is uncommon for the incumbent to face opposition at the conclusion of the first term. The first term of Scotland was scheduled to finish in 2020, but COVID forced two postponements of the heads of government summit. She has so already completed six years of service.
A Jamaican nominee named Kamina Johnson Smith, who had the support of some significant member states like the UK and India, was her opponent. In fact, Scotland’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, has been open about his goal to prevent them from serving a second term. This sparked a very public argument leading up to the summit, with supporters of Scotland accusing the Johnson administration of having a “colonial agenda” that threatens to destroy the Commonwealth.
The meeting was taking place in Rwanda, which was the subject of press attention as well. Since 1999, the head of state of the host nation has held the position of chair-in-office of the Commonwealth until the next heads of state gathering, which typically takes place two years later.
Because of its government’s track record on human rights, led by Mahinda Rajapaksa, the choice to let Sri Lanka host proven to be quite divisive in 2013.
The Rwandan government of President Paul Kagame, which is accused of stifling dissent and free expression and upsetting the nation’s neighbors, is likely to come under the spotlight in 2022. The extremely contentious British government plan to send some asylum seekers back to Rwanda has increased scrutiny of both the nation’s domestic and foreign policies.
The Commonwealth is unlikely to have the kind of good “re-launch” some of its supporters had hoped for, either as a result of this or the increasingly contentious race for secretary general.