“It behoves us and the partnerships we can muster to “contribute to a future which is fairer, more sustainable, more secure and more prosperous.”
Those words formed part of the preamble to the Communiqué at the close of this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in London, endorsed by the 53 member countries as a roaring success under the theme “Towards a common future”.
As a citizen and longtime watcher of the Commonwealth, I could not have agreed more.
It was, therefore, with some interest that I read the derision in sections of the British media pouring scorn prior to the meeting, which, contrary to their opinion, perhaps only served to emphasise the necessity of the biannual gathering.
“Like a divorcee on the rebound, Britain is now desperately seeking to woo its old flame, the Commonwealth,” chided one commentator as Brexit looms.
“Re-establishing links with the Commonwealth is not going to be as simple as trying to arrange a date with an old flame,” he pressed on, questioning its relevance.
The comments suggested a broken relationship, if not a patronising throwback to an unequal one.
However, the Commonwealth leaders emerging from the meeting did not see it that way.
The Commonwealth is a global network and it is more than any of its constituent parts, they affirmed in the Communiqué. “Our consensus-based approach flows from our belief in the equality of all nations.”
While one may not deny the colonial past, the Commonwealth is a fact and is as much about the present as about the future. In this, to paraphrase one of their affirmations, the Heads of Government recognised that the strength of what binds them lay in the collaboration among its member countries and people-to-people organisations, as well as the Commonwealth that biannually brings them together towards a better future.
It appreciated the diversity of its community of nations and more than 80 organisations while remarking that it is home to a combined population of 2.4 billion people or a third of the world’s population, and nearly 40 per cent of its young people.
These make the constituency among the most significant in the world, anchoring it to humanity’s aspirations as envisaged under the United Nations Organisation development objectives.
Therefore, “given that 60 percent of the Commonwealth’s population is under the age of 30, [the] Heads of Government affirmed that youth empowerment, as well as gender equality, are critical in realising the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda).”
Recognising Information and Communication Technology as a key driver, the Heads highlighted the seminal role of ICT, as well as Science, Technology and Innovation in supporting good governance, promoting inclusion and sustainable development, and reducing the digital divide.
In the face of Brexit and its potential impact, there was also deliberation on intra-Commonwealth trade and investment of which, prior to the CHOGM, the Financial Times had weighed in reporting that “Thirty-two Commonwealth countries, mainly in Africa and the Caribbean, are covered by free-trade agreements with the E.U.
These states therefore enjoy duty-free and quota-free access to the E.U. for nearly all their goods... Once the UK is out of the E.U., these countries will end up paying $800m a year in additional duties to access the UK market, according to an analysis by the Commonwealth Secretariat.”
CHOGM, however, was forward-looking and set the goal to expand investment and boost intra-Commonwealth trade to US$2 trillion by 2030. The Heads adopted a Declaration on the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda for Trade and Investment and mandated the Secretariat to develop an accompanying action plan that considers capacity building and hard and soft connectivity.
One may not mention all the affirmations in this space, except to also note the blue economy and that the “Heads identified climate change, including sea level rise and acidification, biodiversity loss, overfishing, and plastic pollution as some of the most significant pressures on the ocean, and called for ambitious, coordinated global action.
They affirmed the Commonwealth’s strength in sharing experience and expertise, and recognised its vital role in building capacity in small and other vulnerable states.”
In a separate statement from the Communiqué, as if in answer to the commentator who wondered at its relevance, the leaders emphasised that the Commonwealth brings a unique perspective to this century’s challenges.
“We speak for a diverse range of countries,” they said, “from some of the smallest to some of the largest nations on earth; for the most vulnerable, as well as countries at various levels of development. We can speak for six continents.”
With the agenda set on the challenges that must be addressed, the road now leads to the next CHOGM in 2020 in Rwanda, a country that has more than proved her mettle as a member in the ten years since joining the Commonwealth in 2009.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.