Hidden archives of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO): conspiracy, incompetence or loss of institutional memory?

By Mandy Banton, Senior Research Fellow, ICWS; formerly of the UK National Archives


Despite rumours and half-truths long in existence, the official line that no locally created records of former colonial governments were transferred to London at independence was generally accepted, although few would have been so naïve as to believe another claim – that none had been destroyed.  Continue reading

Nigeria celebrates its centenary

By Richard Bourne OBE, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies

Nigeria Centenary

Nigeria, put together by Lord Lugard in January 1914, has just been celebrating its centenary. This is slightly less of a hooley than the celebration of 50 years of independence in 2010; the hundred centenary medallions to recognise individuals were silver, the fifty in 2010 were in gold.  The Queen has had a centenary medal, as have the late Lord and Lady Lugard (Flora Shaw ); the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are trying to locate heirs to the Lugards, who had no children, and Andrew Pocock, current High Commissioner in Abuja, would quite like to display their medals in a new High Commission building.

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Can Malta rescue the Commonwealth?

SirRonaldSanders02Transcript of an after-dinner presentation given by Sir Ronald Sanders on 9 January 2014 at the Round Table Post-CHOGM Conference, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.

All but those in denial admit that the Commonwealth is now a wounded organisation. It is facing questions related not only to its meaning, but also to its existence.

Over the next two years, the Commonwealth can mark time sleepwalking into irrelevance or it can make use of the present existential threat to prepare the ground for a substantial and meaningful re-launch at the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta. Continue reading

The EPG wanted Ireland back in the Commonwealth

By Sir Ronald Sanders KCMG AM

Sir Ronald Sanders is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. He was a member and Rapporteur of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group (2010-2011) and a former Caribbean Diplomat.

“Get Ireland back in the Commonwealth” – that might well have been the most prominent headline in relation to a report submitted to the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Australia.

At its very last meeting in June 2011, the Eminent Persons Group (EPG), mandated by the 2009 Commonwealth Summit to make recommendations for reform of the Commonwealth, removed from its report a proposal encouraging Ireland to re-join the association.[i] Continue reading

Lessons from the Past?

By Dr Sue Onslow, Senior Research Fellow, ICwS

As an integral part of the oral history project on the Commonwealth, last week we organised a key note lecture by former Secretary General Sir Sonny Ramphal (1975-1990). This was deliberately scheduled for the eve of the controversial Heads of Government meeting in Sri Lanka, and was entitled ‘Managing Commonwealth Controversies: Lessons from the Past?’ The question mark was also highly deliberate – what lessons, short lived or long term, can be drawn from looking at management of past CHOGMS, when the Commonwealth itself was a smaller organisation, in a different time of international relations, , and at a different point in the international political economy? Continue reading

Are South Africa’s ‘Born Free’ Generation Scaring Zuma?

By Keith Somerville

President Jacob Zuma has reacted angrily to the use of the term ‘born frees’ for the generation of young South Africans who will get their first chance to vote in next year’s elections. Speaking at a voter registration drive in Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria, on 8th November, he said that the term was propaganda and makes young people out to be idiots. Quite how he came to the conclusion that ‘born free’ was being equated with idiocy is not clear, but his nervousness about this generation is. His irritated retort is not just redolent of the president’s and the ANC’s sensitivity to real or implied criticism; it is also a measure of the concern within the ANC about the voting intentions of the million plus new voters who may appear on the electoral roll. Continue reading

Botswana’s Jumbo Dilemma – the expanding elephant population and the environment by Keith Somerville


Elephants at Savuti waterhole

Elephants are a keystone species in ecological systems, thinning woodland, creating areas of grassland or savannah and having a massive influence on the flora but also the other fauna of an area.  Where they survive in Africa they are generally a threatened species – suffering from poaching, habitat loss or closure of migration routes that enable them to move from area to area to find food and water.  Movement and the ability to disperse is a survival technique that also prevents sustained damage to forests, dry woodlands and plant species in particular areas; availability of water year round can deter dispersal and so escalate likely damage to vegetation.  Estimates of the numbers of elephants remaining on the continent vary and are not precise.  The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) puts totals at between 470,000 and 690,000 while the Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) says that a 2012 census showed definite, verifiable numbers at 422,955 (down from the definite figure on 2007 of 472,134) but with the possibility that there could be as many as another 235,896 (this possible figure was 3,000 higher in 2007).  What is clear is that across much of Africa, the numbers are declining.

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The Commonwealth in troubling times

by Sir Ronald Sanders KCMG AM

In this Inaugural Lecture marking the 100th Anniversary of the Charter of the Bristol  Commonwealth Society, Sir Ronald Sanders [1] argues that the inter-governmental Commonwealth is a diverse group that is now plagued by mistrust and loss of confidence.  If the Summit in Sri Lanka is to be meaningful, Heads of Government must set up machinery to address this issue urgently and credibly.   It will call for careful diplomatic stage-managing by the Secretary-General, and transparent and open chairmanship by the Sri Lankan President.  Whether this can be achieved is left to be seen.  But, if this matter is not tackled with urgency and credibility, the Commonwealth may well go over the cliff to disintegration on which it is now dangerously perched.  Continue reading

Time to listen to the Commonwealth’s First Nations

By Richard Bourne and Helena Whall

The Commonwealth’s First Nations: Rights, Status and Struggles in the run up to the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, 2014 – Conference Programme

Photo: Toronto Sun

Not since Idi Amin’s threat to attend the London Commonwealth summit in 1977, which led to the first statement by leaders denouncing human rights abuse in a member state, has there been such a focus on rights issues in advance of a meeting of Commonwealth heads of government. But the forthcoming Sri Lankan summit will also be a chance for governments to comment on the human rights of an often invisible group of Commonwealth citizens – its indigenous peoples.

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Reparations for Slavery: Can a claim be sustained?

By Sir Ronald Sanders KCMG AM, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and a former Caribbean diplomat

In 1838, British slave owners in the English-Speaking Caribbean received £11.6 billion in today’s value as compensation for the emancipation of their “property” – 655,780 human beings of African descent that they had enslaved and exploited, and, in many cases, brutalised. The freed slaves, by comparison, received nothing in recompense for their dehumanisation, their cruel treatment, the abuse of their labour and the plain injustice of their enslavement.

This is the basis on which 14 governments of the member-states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have decided to approach the UK law firm, Leigh Day, “to consider a legal challenge to seek compensation from three European nations for what they claim is the legacy of the Atlantic slave trade”.

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