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 

Exploring the ‘Hidden Histories’ of Decolonization at the ICWS

by Chris Moffat, ICWS Early Career Researcher in Commonwealth Studies

 The Hidden History of Decolonization: What do the ‘migrated archives’ reveal about British withdrawal from Empire?

Last Friday, 20 February 2015, the Institute of Commonwealth Studies convened an afternoon conference on the ‘Hidden Histories of Decolonization’, the latest in its Decolonization Workshop series. Organised in conjunction with King’s College London, the event focused on the question of ‘migrated archives’ (FCO 141) – the collection of British colonial administrative documents released in 2012-13 by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – and the implications these new sources might have for our understanding of the end of the British Empire.

A primary concern throughout the day was, concordantly, the nature and form of the archive itself. The opening session brought together ICWS Senior Research Fellow Dr Mandy Banton and VICE News journalist Katie Engelhart to discuss their shared interest in the various trails of misinformation and ‘sleights of hand’ that have kept this collection from the public eye for so many decades. Dr Banton traced the British government’s evolving policy toward migrated archives, noting the obstacles scholars face in establishing for certain the ‘complete’ contents of a collection – that is, the difficulty in ruling out the possibility that some files remain hidden, that some have been destroyed, or that the process of naming and archiving has functioned to obfuscate certain materials. Engelhart, meanwhile, suggested that the case of FCO 141 is provocative for the questions it raises about government transparency in the public record system. She also suggested that, in addition to possible historical value, the new documents have potential legal value – referring to the ongoing attempt by some 41,000 Kenyan claimants to sue the British government for mistreatment during the 1950s Mau Mau rebellion.

A lively discussion as to whether the delayed release of colonial archives amounted to a ‘conspiracy’ or a ‘cock-up’ followed, moderated by session chair and ICWS Director Professor Philip Murphy. Professor Murphy raised the question of institutional memory in the Foreign Office, asking if it could possibly be so poor as to explain entire ‘lost’ collections. Contributions from the audience explored the long-term campaigns led by former colonial territories like Kenya to demand the return of documents concerning their national histories, based on both a political and economic prerogatives. Comparisons were also drawn with the example of French archives and the uncertain fate of colonial collections from West and coastal Africa.

The next two sessions interrogated the specific content of the migrated archives, asking whether or not these documents really provided the ‘revelations’ or ‘game-changing’ material suggested by sustained media interest in their release. The consensus was – overwhelmingly – that no, the release of FCO 141 has not provided the occasion to rewrite the narrative of Britain’s withdrawal from Empire; indeed, if anything, it has simply affirmed what historians already knew. Dr Karl Hack of the Open University went so far as to suggest, in the final session, that the spectacle of FCO 141’s release has threatened to steal momentum from the general move away from colonial archives in the historiography of former British territories, distracting from robust efforts to privilege foreign and vernacular archives alongside grounded oral histories collected in the field. This point contrasted with a more general optimism expressed by the remaining panellists regarding the potential of FCO 141 to provide enhanced contextual detail – if not historical ‘revelation’ – and also to prompt scholars to ask new questions about the decolonization process.

The second session brought together Professor Dan Branch (University of Warwick), Professor John Lonsdale (University of Cambridge) and Dr Emma Hunter (University of Edinburgh) to discuss the migrated archives in the context of East Africa. Professor Branch emphasised the value of FCO 141 in underlining the global processes of decolonization, especially as they relate to the Cold War. Documents in the migrated archives, he noted, trace with great detail the ‘political traffic’ of young Kenyan students to Eastern Europe during the late colonial period. They dwell particularly on the experience of racism in this context for its utility to British anti-Soviet propaganda, but also provide a valuable pre-history for Kenyan trade-unionism and opposition politics in the post-colonial state. Professor Lonsdale outlined the standard historical narrative around decolonization in Kenya before conceding that FCO 141 does not necessitate any revision to this well-established story. The potential of the migrated archives rests, he argued, in the insight it provides to high-level thinking around British counter-insurgency efforts and the influence of racism in managing imperial exit from East Africa. The release is provocative, moreover, for illuminating the difficulty the British public continues to have in coming to terms with this dark episode of its history and the manner in which events around the Mau Mau rebellion clash with the country’s post-imperial national image. Dr Hunter, in contrast, suggested that the worth of FCO 141 lies in the local or ground-level detail it provides the African historian willing to explore archival documents in idiosyncratic ways. Referring to her own work on decolonization in Tanganyika, now Tanzania, Dr Hunter demonstrated how vernacular newspapers and anti-colonial pamphlets – amassed by colonial intelligence due to concerns about their seditious nature – provide rare insight into the East African colony’s public sphere and efforts to shape political debate. During the Q&A period, Professor Branch agreed that the contents of FCO 141 may, perhaps, be more promising for the work of the Africanist in particular rather than historians of Empire more generally.

The third and final session included contributions from Professor David French (UCL), Professor Philip Murphy (ICWS) and Dr Karl Hack (Open University), and was concerned with the implications of FCO 141 for the histories of Cyprus, Singapore and Malaysia. Professor French affirmed that his forthcoming book on British counter-insurgency campaigns in Cyprus during the 1950s would have made the same argument with or without the migrated archives, but that it would have been less detailed – unable to outline in such depth, for instance, the brutality of British forces and the Greek Cypriot group EOKA, nor equipped to map the high-level thinking among British officials about the mistreatment of convicts or EOKA’s persecution of the civilian population. Professor Murphy’s presentation emphasised the potential for FCO 141 to ground new, connected histories of counter-insurgency in the British empire and beyond, focusing on the mention of the Cyprus ‘Special Investigation Group’ (SIG) in a 1959 Colonial Office document circulated to Kenya, Uganda, Northern Rhodesia and other African colonial territories. The SIG, which had been established in Cyprus less to enquire into allegations of abuse by British authorities than to ‘manage’ such allegations – working to provide the ‘first narrative’ around a violent or contentious event – was recommended as a useful precedent for ‘campaigns of representation’ in the African context, leading Professor Murphy to ask what implications initiatives like SIG may have had for the British security forces at large. Dr Hack concluded the session by discussing the ‘public life’ of newly-released documents in Malaysia and Singapore, noting that – while the documents have not provided anything new for historians of British Malaya – the release of personal files and Special Branch documents has sparked interest in revealing those Malays who collaborated with the British during the Second World War and also those Singapore residents who were falsely persecuted as ‘communists’ during the late colonial period.

The afternoon’s discussions concluded with the observation that the ‘smoking gun’ connecting violence and brutality to the history of British decolonization had already been located in documents available since the 1980s. If the migrated archives remain useful for historians, it is in the rich, contextual detail their contents provide, as well as the encouragement they may give to scholars asking new questions about – in Dr Hunter’s words – the ‘messy and entangled’ global history of decolonization, especially as it falls under the shadow of the Cold War. Beyond the academic discipline of history, the case of the migrated archives remains of general interest for the questions in raises about government transparency, the relationship of colonial archives to the politics of post-colonial states, and the still-unfolding legacies of relationships forged by Empire.

Kenyatta reportedly unhappy at constant snubs during UK visit

By Keith Somerville, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies

It seems that despite being invited to London to attend the recent international conference on Somalia and meetings with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Uhuru Kenyatta seems to think that UK was snubbed in the UK.

The Star website in Kenya has written that,

“[Kenyatta’s] first visit to the UK as President, as his fan base fondly referred to it on social media, will not form the happiest chapter of his memoirs in the fullness of time. The tour was fraught with a bad press and subtle diplomatic snubs, not the least of which was the denial by Prime Minister David Cameron, his host, of a photo op. Throughout his three days in London, Monday May 6 to Wednesday 8, President Kenyatta and his entourage were constantly reminded of his status as an International Criminal Court indictee of crimes against humanity”.

But what did President Kenyatta expect?

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