Commonwealth, Sustainable Development Goals and T20 Cricket: some ‘Ivory Tower’ reflections

by Dr Balasubramanyam Chandramohan PhD, FRSA, FHEA, ICWS Senior Research Fellow

Bank Holidays are a good time to let some thoughts break through normal routines of academic life.

As I sit facing across the window, with a magnolia tree in full bloom and not many yards from the famous tree that that was a part of Kent County Cricket Club grounds till high winds destroyed it a few years ago, I thought of recollecting and reflecting on an extraordinary few weeks in April.

Just recovering from co-organising a workshop on UN Sustainable Development Goals and Higher Education at  the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London with a fellow Senior Research Fellow, I search for answers for what one of the contributors, a seasoned Programme Officer of a range of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) – in South Africa and Afghanistan and UK — asked: Can the expertise/knowledge held by ‘Ivory Towers’ (exact quote) be made available to CSOs?

Living in an ‘Ivory Tower’, I find the above disconnect (or perceptions of it) a bit surprising. Have universities always been seen as being remote from day-to-day realities/issues? What has happened to all the ‘Third Stream Activities’ and ‘Knowledge Transfer’ (and PR) activities that university staff engage in? Can Universities, speaking of ‘vertical’ activities, redefine their roles and support goals of universality in SDGs by forming and actively participating in specific/individual SDGs involving both the Global South and the Global North? Can universities, additionally, as sites of disciplinary/multi-disciplinary/inter-disciplinary knowledge taxonomies, look out of their ‘Ivory Towers’ and conceptually and practically help to work across what could, if due attention is not paid, become 17 SDG ‘silos’ of activity?

Thinking back to the 6th of April, there was a high profile event on Sport and Sustainable Development organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat. The format was that of a debate with three speakers each arguing for and against the proposition: To maximise the contribution that sport can make to sustainable development, governments should focus investment on ‘sport for health’.

 As I was unable to attend the event, I sent in my contribution to the debate in the form of points supporting the ‘against’ argument. As with any oppositional debate, my points were one-sided:

  • ‘Sport for health’: Sport can contribute in a range of ways to achieve sustainable development, such as contributing to social cohesion cutting across a range of political, linguistic and cultural divides, and so the intangible benefits are equal if not more in importance to benefits such as health with regard to sustainable development
  • Investing in ‘Sport for Health’ should be left to sports bodies which have a greater reach, appeal and financial resources than individual governments (for example, football and cricketing bodies have enormous resources that are more than what many governments can afford). Governments can, however, ensure that the investments are directed equitably and free from corruption and mismanagement
  • To be successful, ‘Sport for Health’ investment should be accompanied by attitudinal change rather than just creation of stadia or sports facilities. These changes would come, mostly, from a range of opinion builders and icons in public life that can pass on/embody messages of health benefits from sports. So, governments should invest in communication strategies rather than sports per se for one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many communications regarding sports and their links with the health of individuals, families and communities

However, my main contribution was to suggest that Sports in the Commonwealth as a whole will get a boost if cricket (T20 format) is included in Commonwealth Games 2018, and Olympics 2020 (and later ones too). 

England v Sri Lanka, Twenty20 International, Southampton, UK Thursday 15 June 2006  Image via Flickr user Badger Swan

England v Sri Lanka, Twenty20 International, Southampton, UK, Thursday 15 June 2006. Image via Flickr user Badger Swan

I thought I must make a more detailed case for T20. Here is my argument in five points:

  • Cricket is the most popular sport of the Commonwealth going by the number of fans/supporters. For numbers, just add the populations of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Kenya, Australia, New Zealand, England, Scotland, and the West Indies
  • Cricket embodies Commonwealth and its key democratic principles of adherence to rules, fair play etc. , its diversity of membership, which has ‘equal say regardless of size or economic stature’, its gender equality, as there are teams for both men and women, and others
  • T20, the latest format in which cricket is played, is ideal for getting quick results, in a matter of hours. Several newspapers, TV Channels and media outlets devote space to T20 league matches, bi- and trilateral tournaments, and reciprocal tours by teams
  • Many teams from the Commonwealth and beyond (Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Oman, UAE, Holland, Ireland, Hong Kong) participate in national/regional tournaments, bilateral or trilateral series, and/or the T20 World Cup
  • Cricketing bodies such as the Indian Premier League are rich and could potentially help in popularising the game in all countries through helping to construct cricket grounds and develop training facilities

These investments, in addition to promoting cricket, can have spin-off benefits such as helping in the overall development of sporting facilities, enriching the culture of participation in sports, and promoting SDGs such as Health and Education.

I would like to (continue to) argue that Commonwealth institutions need to work towards getting T20 cricket included in Commonwealth Games and the Olympics, as part of their strategy for Sport for Sustainable Development.

I am sure there will be some agreements and disagreements regarding what I said. That is what blogs are for!

Observing Uganda’s 2016 Presidential Election

 By Dr Eva Namusoke, Postdoctoral Research Officer, ICWS

 The 18th February saw long-anticipated elections in Uganda, where the incumbent President Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) faced his stiffest opposition in his 30 years in office. With a reported 60.8% of the votes, Museveni was declared winner and will continue as president until 2021. The election drew extensive coverage in Uganda and abroad with the campaign process being marked by frequent arrests of the opposition leader, sometimes clashes between the Ugandan police and opposition supporters, constraints on the media, and the recruitment of controversial Crime Preventers. In this election in Uganda, as on previous occasions, international election observers were invited into the country to witness and asses the democratic process. Election observers included teams from the EU, the East African Community, the AU and the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth in particular has one of the oldest traditions of election monitoring, having observed more than 130 elections in 36 countries since 1980. While the various observer groups present written reports about the process, the interviews in the Commonwealth Oral History Project (COHP) offer a look behind the scenes, moving beyond the measured words of the official reports and photo ops.

Olusegun Obasanjo, Chair, leads members of the Commonwealth Observer Group Commonwealth Observer Group - 2016 Uganda Elections

Olusegun Obasanjo, Chair, leads members of the Commonwealth Observer Group
Commonwealth Observer Group – 2016 Uganda Elections

 

Election monitoring in the Commonwealth began in 1980 under the leadership of General Secretary Sir Shridath “Sonny” Ramphal. In 1980, the Commonwealth sent a group to monitor the first elections in independent Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), the culmination of long-term involvement in the transition to majority rule. Neville Linton worked at the Commonwealth Secretariat from 1983-1995 and was involved in observing numerous elections. Along with his discussion of elections in Namibia, Kenya and Bangladesh, he also explained the beginning of the activities in 1980:

‘You see, these were crisis situations: Zimbabwe/Rhodesia, and the phase after Idi Amin. But they had been one-offs. What happened in the meeting in Malaysia was that it was accepted that this would now be part of the routine practices of the Commonwealth.’

The process of Commonwealth election monitoring was formalised following the 1989 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malaysia and as Linton recalled, Malaysia volunteered to be the first country to allow Commonwealth observers at its 1990 general election. As noted above, Uganda’s post-Amin 1980 election was one of the earliest observer missions for the Commonwealth. Hugh Craft, an Australian diplomat and member of the 1980 Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) described the turbulence of this particular election:

‘Violent? Yes, in the extreme. I vividly remember guerrilla leader Museveni surrounded by his AK47-bearing bodyguards, straight out of the jungle, coming into the Speke [Hotel] to see the COG.’

Raja Gomez, a Sri Lankan civil servant, was part of the same group as Craft and similarly remembers the events:

‘That was one in which we had soldiers firing in to our hotel. And we have a tape of the shots being fired and various people talking and saying silly things to each other – shall we get under tables and that type of thing you say to each other in situations that you would have never met before.’

Martin Aliker, a Ugandan diplomat, ran in the 1980 elections and discussed the results, arguing that while the voting was free and fair, the election was stolen by the electoral commissioner deliberately reporting the wrong winners.

Amitav Banerji, who joined the Commonwealth in 1990 was also actively involved in election monitoring and commented on what made the Commonwealth process unique:

‘Election observation by the Commonwealth was very different from other observer groups because they were led at much higher level, usually a former head of state or a former head of government.’

The inclusion of a former head of state remains an important part of the Commonwealth process and there appears to be an effort to ensure the individual is from the same continent. Most recently, the October 2015 Commonwealth Observer Group to Tanzania was led by former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, while the group in Uganda was led by another former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo. The 13-member group representing a range of professional and national backgrounds arrived in Uganda on the 11th February, a week ahead of the election, and spent their time meeting with various civil society groups. Reflecting on his experience in Namibia in 1994, Linton made an important point:

‘What we would do would be to go in before the election, in the run-up to the election because in any case that is when elections are fixed.’

His words were echoed with examples by another veteran of the Commonwealth monitoring process: Sandra Pepera who stated in reference to the 1992 Ghana elections:

‘Well, I think we understood intimately – straight off – that it was just too late to come in two weeks before polling and, clearly, certainly, in Ghana’s case… Yeah, two weeks before the election… This thing was a done deal long before COG arrived.’

As mentioned above, the campaign process for Uganda’s 2016 election has been a somewhat turbulent time for the opposition, suggesting the necessity to view the events of the 18th February within a longer timeline.

In Uganda’s 2016 election, unlike in previous years, the proliferation of social media added another level to monitoring. Despite the government’s surprise decision early on the 18th to block social media including Facebook, Twitter, and (in a move that unduly affected businesses) mobile money, the hashtag #UgandaDecides trended on Twitter. Through the creative use of VPNs to bypass the blockage, Ugandan news sources, opposition leaders and individuals alike shared stories of missing ballot papers, late openings and tense, hours long queues at polling stations. As a result the frustrations of Election Day in Uganda were instantly transmitted around the world, allowing the international community to follow events live.

The Commonwealth Observer Group’s preliminary report on Uganda’s 2016 election, published on the 20th February, echoes other international monitoring groups in its criticism of the process. With a long list of issues noted including a lack of transparency in campaign financing, restrictions placed on the media and incompetency in the work of the Electoral Commission, Obasanjo concluded that, as in previous Ugandan elections, ‘once again these elections fell short of meeting key democratic benchmarks’. Interestingly, African observer groups were notably less critical of the process.

Chief Emeka Anyaoku, who became Commonwealth General Secretary in 1990 right at the beginning of the huge scaling up of Commonwealth election monitoring described its significance:

‘Commonwealth observance of elections legitimises the election and makes it easier for the parties who have lost to accept the result if the election is judged to be free and fair by Commonwealth observers. And this works both for the governing and the opposition parties.’

In the case of Uganda’s most recent election, it appears the process was somewhat lacking in both freedom and fairness. In the wake of the announcement that Museveni had won, his closest opponent, Dr Kizza Besigye, who had received 35.37% of votes, disputed the result and was considering challenging the results in court. At the time of writing and despite protests from the likes of the US government, Besigye had been taken into police custody following three days of house arrest, and the office of his Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party had been stormed by police. Police have also been deployed around major intersections in Kampala and Obasanjo has meanwhile urged security forces and political party supporters to ‘exercise restraint and avoid unnecessary confrontations’.

With Commonwealth observers present at presidential elections from 1980 and regularly alongside a slew of other observer groups in the years since, Uganda has perhaps one of the longest histories of international monitoring of its electoral process. However, it appears that while the levels of violence have reduced markedly since that first monitored 1980 election, there remains some way to go before the country can claim truly democratic elections.

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Commonwealth observers at polling stations, as Ugandan people cast their votes. Commonwealth Observer Group – 2016 Uganda Elections

 

Baroness Patricia Scotland: The Sixth Secretary General of the Commonwealth

By Dr Eva Namusoke, Postdoctoral Research Officer, Institute of Commonwealth Studies

After months of campaigning in the quiet corners of diplomatic offices, online on social media and in speeches from Gaborone to Valletta, the Commonwealth heads of government voted on the 27th November, and Baroness Patricia Scotland will be the next Commonwealth Secretary General. Baroness Scotland, born in Dominica and raised in the UK, will be the first woman to take on the position in a historic moment that has dominated press on her election. The election – held in a closed session – was particularly close, ran over an hour late, and required three rounds of voting before the unanimous decision in favour of Baroness Scotland was made.

L-R: Outgoing Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, Baroness Patricia Scotland, Prime Minister of Malta Joseph Muscat. Copyright – Shane P. Watts Photography

In the days before the 2015 CHOGM began in Malta, four summits showcased the work of increasingly vocal groups within the Commonwealth. While the Commonwealth Business Forum focused on promoting trade between member states and beyond, it was the Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF), the Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF), and the Commonwealth Women’s Forum (CWF) where boundaries were pushed and the potential for the 65 year old organisation was clearest. At the CPF one key theme was the promotion of LGBTI rights with the forum hosting the first LGBTI session at a Commonwealth summit. This is a particularly pressing issue for a Commonwealth where 40 of the 54 member states criminalise same-sex sexual behaviour; these 40 states make up more than half of the total number of countries globally where same-sex sexual behaviour is illegal.[1] While the Commonwealth Heads of Government Leaders’ Statement on the conclusion of the CHOGM mentioned the leaders’ commitments to addressing issues including terrorism, sustainable development, migration and climate change, the advancement of rights for LGBTI individuals was conspicuously – though perhaps unsurprisingly – absent. Soon after her election, Baroness Scotland stated that this would be one of her priorities in her first two years in leadership.

Ahead of the Secretary General election, the CPF was granted a dialogue with the 3 candidates, allowing leaders in civil society to engage with candidates for the first time in Commonwealth history. In a development that surely signalled an understanding of the calls for greater transparency in the election, the event was live-streamed. The three candidates presented their visions for the Commonwealth and were asked questions by individuals representing a range of civil society organisations across the member states. Masire-Mwamba, Sir Ronald and Baroness Scotland fielded questions on the pressing issues of the day, specifically climate change, gender equality, LGBTI rights and the rights of indigenous peoples. Masire-Mwamba emphasised the important role that can be played by civil society, Baroness Scotland referred to her work in UK government and Sir Ronald described his efforts in the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group.

The fact that the summit included a Commonwealth Women’s Forum this year is another new development. The CWF provided an opportunity for female leaders in the Commonwealth to express their frustrations and hopes for the organisation with the keynote given by UN Women Deputy Executive Director, Lakshmi Puri, and supported by Head of Gender at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Amelia Kinahoi-Siamomua. In a document presented to the CHOGM, the CWF called for legally enforced quotas and reserved seats for women, part of a bid to increase representation, with one key declaration: “no decision should be made at any political level without women in the room.” This was a particularly pointed comment addressed at an overwhelmingly male CHOGM where only 3 of the 53 individuals eligible to vote for the next Secretary General were women. With the election of Baroness Scotland, it appears that there will – at the very highest level – be at least one woman in the room.

So what next for the incoming leader of an organisation that has been struggling to maintain its relevance in a world increasingly made up of powerful regional and international organisations? The first task for Baroness Scotland, as with previous secretary generals, will be to take stock, learn from her predecessor and possibly hire new personnel. One of Sir Sonny’s (Secretary General 1975-1990) earliest decisions was following on from his predecessor Arnold Smith’s work and sending a team – including future Secretary General Chief Emeka – to Mozambique to discuss Commonwealth assistance to the country’s move towards independence. For Chief Emeka Anyaoku (1990-2000), his term was preceded by a 6 month retreat, and one of his earliest tasks was encouraging African states to honour the 1991 Harare Declaration. In contrast, his successor Sir Don McKinnon (2000-2008) had an uncomfortable start to his term with Chief Emeka deciding to vacate his office months after the termination of his contract. Chief Emeka and Sir Don did, however, spend the week before Sir Don took office meeting every day to discuss the role of Secretary General. Eighteen months into his term, in the aftermath of September 11th, Sir Don was forced to cancel the upcoming CHOGM and react to the pressures of the international ‘War on Terror’. The impression from these three former secretary generals is that each leader approached the position with ideas about the future of the organisation, that each had to first build or build on personal relationships with Commonwealth leaders, and that their work was driven by the particular historical moment in which they lived.

One important issue for Baroness Scotland will be balancing her Dominican and British identity. As The Independent noted, Baroness Scotland is the first UK citizen to hold the post of Secretary General. While Baroness Scotland stressed her Dominican, Antiguan and African heritage and called herself ‘a child of the Commonwealth,’ her life spent in the UK, and work in the British government spanning almost 20 years will likely affect how she approaches her role as leader of the Commonwealth. The Minister of Foreign Affairs for Antigua and Barbuda, Charles Fernandez, discussed the voting process at the 2015 CHOGM with Antigua’s Observer media. Sir Ronald apparently had the lowest number of votes after the first round, leaving Baroness Scotland and Masire-Mwamba in the running. According to Fernandez, Antigua backed the Caribbean candidate in the second round: ‘We went up against Africa on one hand, and the other (voting) bloc of the Europeans. As you know, Baroness Scotland is a member of the English Parliament. They openly lobbied very heavily for her.’ Furthermore, according to Fernandez, Baroness Scotland had the support of the Pacific nations and Australia and this, combined with Malta and Cyprus’ support, secured her victory. The most salient point of Fernandez’ statement is the reference to Baroness Scotland’s position in the British Parliament. Prime Minister David Cameron had not publically shown support for her, and Baroness Scotland herself had emphasised her Caribbean roots in her campaign; however the contention of the Antiguan minister is that it was ultimately her European, specifically British, political connections that led to her election.

Baroness Scotland’s election  doesn’t mean a return to the “British Commonwealth” as one particularly incensed Caribbean media source reported, but her ties to Great Britain may come into question if she takes a stand on the issues where there is strong disagreement between member states, none more so than LGBTI rights. Baroness Scotland is clearly aware of these difficulties, and stated in her first press conference: “Human rights and development go hand in hand. We will walk with and work with our partners to help everyone appreciate human dignity.” Whatever her first move as Secretary General, her stance on polemic issues or her legacy as a leader, Baroness Scotland is keen to recognise the important moment of her election; her final words immediately after her election: “I am incredibly proud to be the first woman Secretary General.”

[1] Corinne Lennox and Matthew Waites ,‘Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity in the Commonwealth: from history and law to developing activism and transnational dialogues’ in Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in The Commonwealth: Struggles for Decriminalisation and Change,  Corinne Lennox and Matthew Waites (eds.), (London, 2013) p. 1-6. http://commonwealth.sas.ac.uk/publications/house-publications/lgbt-rights-commonwealth

Copyright – Shane P. Watts Photography

Copyright – Shane P. Watts Photography

Thatcher’s top secret plan to destabilise the Ethiopian government

by Martin Plaut, Senior Research Fellow, ICWS

Newly-released documents show that in 1985, the PM wrote to the Foreign Office seeking action on the Marxist and pro-Soviet regime in Ethiopia. Towards the end of 1985, at the height of the worst famine in modern Ethiopian history, Margaret Thatcher contemplated helping to topple the Ethiopian government. The documents – marked Top Secret and Personal – have now been placed in the National Archive.

Margaret_Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher

The British prime minister had long made no bones about how much she disliked the military regime led by Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam. The British government was among the most generous donors to the Ethiopian famine appeal, but the regime itself – Marxist and pro-Soviet – was exactly the kind of authority Thatcher loathed.

By late 1985 the prime minister’s patience was wearing thin. Charles Powell, her private secretary, wrote to the Foreign Office asking what steps might be taken. The FCO, taking is normal, cautious approach wrote back on 27 November saying that: “Barring an assassin’s bullet, Mengistu looks secure, and the opposition movements inside and outside Ethiopia remain deeply divided. The choice is between seeking to influence the present regime, and a policy of containment.”

This did not satisfy Thatcher at all.

“The Prime Minister continues to believe that it is not enough just to jog along in our relations with the distasteful regime in Ethiopia,” came the reply from her private office, just two days later. “If the conclusion is that our present relations offer no serious scope for exercising beneficial and positive influence, she would like serious thought given to ways in which we could make life harder for the Ethiopian regime. These might, as examples, include:”

The letter then lists four options – the first two of which were explosive.

“i) support for the rebels in Eritrea and Tigray;

ii) a more active effort in conjunction with the Americans to identify and perhaps encourage opponents of Mengistu within Ethiopia”

The other two options were more conventional: asking other western powers to criticise the Ethiopian government and taking a “more robust line” when examples emerge of the abuse of aid.

The Foreign Office – and Geoffrey Howe as foreign secretary – must have found these suggestions very hard to digest. Certainly it took some more than a month for a suitable response to be drafted. “The Foreign Secretary agrees that jogging along with the Ethiopian regime would not be right,” came the reply on 10 January 1986.

But, noting that some progress was being made, the Foreign Office urged caution. Backing the rebels would – Sir Geoffrey believed – not work, driving Mengistu further into the arms of the Soviets and (a killer argument with Mrs T) it was also noted that the Eritrean and Tigrayan rebel leaders were “…as extreme in their broadly Marxist political attitudes as the Derg [the Ethiopian government].”

The letter concludes: “We do not believe that support for the rebels would work to our advantage.”

What is interesting to note is that the British government was – if this correspondence is to be believed – unaware that aid that international charities were providing through the Sudan based rebel movements was already being diverted to purchase weapons. A programme I produced for the BBC in 2010  detailed this evidence.

Bob Geldof objected – saying that none of Band Aid’s money had gone astray (a suggestion the programme never made). The BBC Trust apologised to Geldof for the apparent mistake.

I was subsequently contacted by the head of a major British aid agency who substantiated the claims that aid had gone astray, without commenting on which agency’s resources had been used to buy arms and ammunition.

Originally published by the New Statesman 

International migration and asylum – an opportunity for the Commonwealth to show leadership

by Richard Bourne, ICWS Senior Research Fellowship 

The meeting of Commonwealth Heads in Malta is likely to be dominated by three issues – the election of a Secretary-General to run the Secretariat from 2016, positions for the Commonwealth to take at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change conference in Paris (COP21), and how to handle the strains caused by international migration. The third issue is the most intractable. Malta itself is a destination for migrants and asylum seekers, crossing the Mediterranean in leaky boats from Libya. Commonwealth states have radically different national strategies – from the culture of welcome in an immigrant country like Canada, to the caution of the UK, the worries about Bangladeshis in India (where India has erected a concrete and barbed wire wall), and fences separating Botswana and Zimbabwe, and South Africa from Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Australia, of course, has been running an offshore processing centre for asylum seekers in the tiny Commonwealth state of Nauru.

Border fence between South Africa and Mozambique. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Border fence between South Africa and Mozambique. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The most comprehensive study of migration trends in the Commonwealth was conducted by the Ramphal Institute in 2009-2011. Conducted by a commission chaired by P J Patterson, former prime minister of Jamaica, it was assisted by high level academics from Oxford, the University of the West Indies, and Adelaide.

Alan Gamlen, the New Zealander who drafted the first of the commission’s three reports, which took Singapore, South Africa, New Zealand and Bangladesh as case studies, urged the Commonwealth to reconnect with the issue. He argued for the building of capacity to manage migration, streamlined policies to encourage brain circulation and mitigate brain drain, encouragement for migrants to share their success with both origin and destination states, and stronger international cooperation.

Recent events have shown the weakness of international cooperation, especially at a European level, and spotlighted the impact of war, insecurity and human rights abuse in stimulating refugee flows. Humanitarian conventions and the right to asylum have been put aside by some of the richer states, worried that economic migrants who might not gain entry, under the kind of points-based system developed in Australia, pretend to be refugees seeking asylum. There have been hints in the London press that the UK prime minister, David Cameron, may approach Commonwealth African leaders to fund overseas processing centres which might cope with, for example, those fleeing Eritrea; he may also speak to President Buhari of Nigeria about the Nigerians who have been attempting to get to Europe after crossing the Sahara, escaping the mayhem of Boko Haram.

"Malta-halfar-tents-nov2009" by Myriam ThyesLicensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

A refugee camp in Malta. “Malta-halfar-tents-nov2009” by Myriam Thyes. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Following the Ramphal Institute report, acknowledged in the Perth summit communique, the Commonwealth Secretariat held a meeting in Jamaica to review the extent to which small states suffering brain drain could facilitate investment from and return by their migrating citizens. It also asked the Institute to investigate how visa rules, affecting movement between Commonwealth states, could be simplified. This was a question that had also been raised by the Eminent Persons Group, which was worried that the Commonwealth seemed so remote from and of little help to its two billion plus citizens.
Partly because of security worries and the diverse national perspectives, this Ramphal exercise – which involved a tour of 15 capitals by Farooq Sobhan, Michael Frendo and James Jonah – did not result in immediate acceptance of the recommendations to the summit at Colombo in 2015. The inquiry had proposed easing travel for legitimate tourists, and a business card similar to the APEC business card, heavily used by Australian and Chinese business people. The Ramphal Institute indicated that, with a number of regional bodies like CARICOM committed to free movement, it would in theory be possible for different regional blocs to exchange visa reduction. But Colombo did have one positive result. A working party on visas, formed of High Commission reps in London and chaired by Gary Dunn from the Secretariat, has been meeting in 2014-5. It is expected to recommend to the Valletta summit that all states should commit to a “Commonwealth advantage” in revising their visa policies, so that for example Commonwealth citizens in transit through London, Johannesburg or Sydney, would not be charged.

The Queen will attend CHOGM this year. By Joel Rouse/ Ministry of Defence [OGL 3], via Wikimedia Commons

The Queen will attend CHOGM this year. By Joel Rouse/ Ministry of Defence [OGL 3], via Wikimedia Commons

What else might the Commonwealth leaders do in Malta? Many journalists, in the developed and developing world, love to attack the body as “a club”, “a talk-fest”, and “a colonial hangover” but it is likely that the decline in attendance by heads will reverse in Valletta, partly because of the S-G election and partly because the Queen, in her capacity as Head of the Commonwealth, has said she will come. The leaders must take this chance to make a real contribution, which can be noted by media and publics.

Two specifics: first, a declaration to assist the international community, and the countries from which countries are coming; this would bundle together a commitment to development and better life chances, democracy and rights and better security for citizens. Peacemaking in Syria would help. This would need to be followed up by Joseph Muscat, Malta’s energetic prime minister who will shortly chair the European Council, in talks with Brussels and specially affected Commonwealth countries like South Africa, India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Australia.

The second would be to arrange a meeting of police chiefs from states particularly affected by people smuggling – such as Malta, Cyprus, South Africa, UK and Australia – to coordinate a crackdown on the smugglers.

Migration and asylum do not need to be no-win topics for the Commonwealth. The association, benefiting from its diversity, can show leadership here.

Renewing the Commonwealth – A reform agenda for a new Secretary-General

by Matthew Neuhaus*

The Commonwealth in Crisis

In Malta, in November this year at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), Commonwealth leaders will elect a new Secretary-General. He – or perhaps at last she – will be the sixth Secretary-General, or SG, in the 50 year history of the Secretariat. The Commonwealth itself has changed considerably over the last century, as the nations of the British Empire emerged into independence. The election of a new Secretary-General provides the opportunity for further change and reform, to ensure its continuing relevance to its members and the wider world.

The current Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Kamalesh Sharma. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The current Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Kamalesh Sharma. Image via Wikimedia Commons

What the Commonwealth needs above all in the new Secretary-General is a change agent, thought leader, motivator and manager. It also needs someone who can develop a shared vision for a Commonwealth facing crisis – in relevance, funding and commitment – which in the words of one Commonwealth commentator is “graver than any it has faced before”. The Chair of the CHOGM, the youthful Prime Minister Muscat of Malta, is alert to the challenge of fixing what he sees as a “sick” and dysfunctional organisation. Muscat as Chair could be a powerful combination with a dynamic new SG.

This “crisis situation” is also not unique to the Commonwealth. Writing in the Sunday Times on 14 June 2015 former US Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin spoke of a broader “crisis of international institutions” which are failing to grapple successfully with the big issues of the world today. However for the Commonwealth it is particularly acute as unlike the UN or similar global bodies its very existence may be at stake.

Unfortunately too the divisions between Commonwealth members – developed and developing, small states and large states, tiger economies and fragile states – have been growing. There is real need for a new SG to help its leaders find a sense of common purpose and indeed “common wealth”. Prime Minister Nehru is often quoted on the “touch of healing” the Commonwealth could bring to the world. A new SG will need to bring a touch of healing to the Commonwealth itself, and needs the temperament, strength and emotional intelligence to do that.

While the Commonwealth’s future may depend much on the nature of the new Secretary-General, this is not the only factor for change and renewal. In fact it is its member nations, and its associated organisations and civil society, which will really determine the future of the Commonwealth. Only if they are prepared to take the decisions to make it fit for purpose in the 21st Century – including the sort of SG its leaders will choose – will this historic international organisation continue to exist, and provide useful service to its membership and the world.

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Vanuatu and Tuvalu – inadequate response to human suffering

by Sir Ronald Sanders, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies

People on the East Coast of the United States of America (US) and the Caribbean should consider how best they might lend a helping hand to the people of the islands of Tuvalu and Vanuatu in the Pacific whose lives have been shattered by Cyclone Pam that struck them on the night of March 13.

Image courtesy of Graham Crumb - Humans of Vanuatu.

Image courtesy of Graham Crumb – Humans of Vanuatu.

In the case of the Caribbean islands, it is a case of “there but for fortune go I”.

A category five Cyclone, called Pam, ripped through both Vanuatu and Tuvalu – two archipelagic countries consisting of several small islands and atolls – creating widespread destruction.  Damage was so intense that all the inhabitants of one of the Tuvalu islands had to be completely evacuated. They left behind everything they hold dear, and they now live in uncertainty about when they can return and how to start to reconstruct their lives.

The capacity of these countries to cope with ferocious cyclones, such as Pam, and the resilience to rebuild in the wake of huge damage, simply do not exist.   Both Vanuatu and Tuvalu are confronted with immediate humanitarian needs for food, shelter and fresh water.  Reports indicate that residents on some of the distant islands have resorted to drinking salt water.

The level of the immediate suffering can only be imagined by those who have not experienced the cruel conditions in which people are forced to live in the aftermath of natural disasters of this magnitude.

 The governments of Australia and New Zealand, which are the two most developed Commonwealth countries in the area, have been quick to help with humanitarian assistance.  But, the islands in the two archipelagic countries are so scattered that distribution of supplies is severely constrained, particularly as many have no landing strips.  Britain, too, has offered help amounting to £1m.  That money will be made immediately available to UN organisations and international aid agencies already working in the region.

But the lack of aid co-ordination has resulted in uneven assistance to the people of the islands, and in some cases to no help at all.   At the time of writing, the government of Vanuatu announced that food will run out on some islands within a week. The deputy chair of the National Disaster Committee, Benjamin Shing, has said the while the country appreciated the aid, the initial response could have been handled better.  He claims that the aid agencies are working on their own rather than in co-operation with the government.  He added that “in nearly every country in the world where they go in they have their own operational systems, they have their own networks and they refuse to conform to government directives”.

In the situation that Shing describes it is the already-suffering people who are hurt more as resources are duplicated or wasted in one area, and little or no help reaches others.

If, apart from Australia and New Zealand particularly, the response to the tragedy in Vanuatu and Tuvalu has not been impressive, the greater and more profound problem will be the rebuilding process.  These islands, like many in the Caribbean, do not have the capital formation in their own banking system to finance reconstruction.  They will have to turn to international financial institutions for help.   But, if the experience of the Caribbean is a measure of what they can expect, rebuilding will be a long and agonizing process.

Many Caribbean countries, such as Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and Dominica, lost more than 3 years of gross domestic product (GDP) in 24 hours when hurricanes devastated them.  Anxious to rebuild in the wake of such massively destructive hurricanes, the governments of these countries were forced into the commercial market to secure financing to rebuild infrastructure, even while their revenues were declining from decreased production.  Hotels closed, agricultural production ceased and manufacturing halted.  The result was an increase in the national debt and uncomfortable levels of debt to GDP ratios of more than 100%.

These countries had no option.  They either had to borrow to rebuild and re-start their economies or face soaring unemployment, increase in poverty and inadequate investment in health and education services.

Right now, Vanuatu and Tuvalu are rightly focused on alleviating the suffering of their people.  But, the bigger and more fundamental problem of rebuilding – and how to pay for it – already looms large.   Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, has told the Tuvalu Prime Minister, Enele Sopoaga, that her government would support longer-term recovery and reconstruction efforts.   Vanuatu will also need that help.   Australia alone cannot provide it, nor should it be expected to.

 As Richard Bourne of the Ramphal Institute observed recently, “with erratic climate events and sea level rise it is time for the global community to take more seriously the growing risks for island archipelagos, especially low-lying atoll states in the Pacific and Caribbean. In a single year a storm can knock 10 per cent off GDP, and certain communities are already being withdrawn from shorelines where ocean levels have risen. This is a particular challenge for the Commonwealth, where the Ramphal Institute estimates that there are some ten independent and dependent territories which might be under water in 2100”.

 In its report to Commonwealth Heads of Government, “A Commonwealth of the People: Time for Urgent Reform”, the Eminent Persons Group of which I was a member had recommended that the 53-nation Commonwealth establish a disaster management capacity.  Unfortunately the recommendation was not implemented. The details of the mechanism are laid out in the report.  Suffice to say that the proposal sought to establish a rapid Commonwealth response to natural disasters; machinery for disaster preparation and mitigation; and the means to help mobilize concessionary financing for rebuilding.

Both Vanuatu and Tuvalu could have benefited enormously from such a disaster management capacity within the Commonwealth of which they are two of the smallest and most vulnerable of member states.  The Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma, called for Commonwealth help immediately after the destructive passage of Cyclone Pam, but the Commonwealth should be doing more at times of tragedy if it is to be relevant to the people of its member states.

Let us hope that the tragedy in Vanuatu and Tuvalu is a wake-up call.  Hurricanes in the Caribbean and cyclones in the Pacific are not going away.  They are clear and present dangers.

Responses and previous commentaries: www.sirronaldsanders.com

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 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.

Continue reading