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Commonwealth Heads of State Summit: 'Warm words on critical issues but a conspicuous lack of concerted action'

Day two of the Commonwealth Youth Forum began this morning, as the heads of state of the Commonwealth meet in Kigali, Rwanda for the 2022 edition of the heads of government summit. Picture: Simon Maina/AFP

Day two of the Commonwealth Youth Forum began this morning, as the heads of state of the Commonwealth meet in Kigali, Rwanda for the 2022 edition of the heads of government summit. Picture: Simon Maina/AFP

Published Jun 21, 2022

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Cape Town - Day two of the Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF) kicked off this morning, as the heads of state of the Commonwealth meet in Kigali, Rwanda for the 2022 edition of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

The forum focused on the tangible change young people have made across the Commonwealth, said a statement.

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Additionally, it addressed the power of collective commitment and its role in ensuring that youth are equipped for the rapidly altering 21st century.

The forum asks the question, “How can Commonwealth countries adequately help rather than hinder the vast potential of the youth?”

This week, leaders of 4 countries – from Africa, Europe, Asia and Southern America – converge on Kigali between June 20 and 25 for the CHOGM.

Meetings began in the Rwandan capital on Sunday, with four forums covering youth, women, business and civil society and culminating in the official retreat for leaders at the Intare Conference Arena this Saturday, June 25.

The majority of Commonwealth members (32) are classified as small states with populations of under 1.5 million.

In 2021 the combined GDP of all Commonwealth countries was estimated to be $13.1 trillion (about R208 trillion).

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The Commonwealth takes an interest in a wide variety of issues, ranging from climate change and deforestation to gender equality, international development, good governance, human rights and the rule of law.

“This represents both a strength and a weakness,” says Professor Philip Murphy, director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and Professor of British and Commonwealth History, School of Advanced Study.

“It means that it speaks to the diverse national interests of its member states. Yet it finds it almost impossible to focus its activities on one or two major issues where it could make a genuine difference. Whereas the more affluent countries of the Commonwealth have tended to favour a focus on trade and good governance, the less affluent have stressed the need to address global inequality and promote development.

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“The result has generally been warm words on all these issues but a conspicuous lack of concerted action.”

Murphy says that this is reflected by the absence of a clear and deliverable agenda for heads of governments’ meetings. Instead, they have “themes”, which are intentionally all-encompasing. The theme of the 2022 Summit is “Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming”.

The future of the Commonwealth secretary-general, Patricia Scotland, who is seeking a second term in office, is on the agenda. Normally, secretaries-general serve two four-year terms, and it is unusual for the incumbent to be challenged at the end of their first term. Scotland’s first term was due to end in 2020, but because of the pandemic, the heads of government meeting due that year has twice been postponed.

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Murphy says press attention is also likely to focus on the human rights record of Rwanda, where the meeting is taking place.

“Since 1999, the leader of the host country becomes the Commonwealth’s chair-in-office until the next heads of state meeting, which usually follows in two years’ time. In 2013 the decision to allow Sri Lanka to host proved extremely contentious due to the human rights record of its government led by Mahinda Rajapaksa.”

In 2022 attention is likely to focus on the regime of President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, which is accused of suppressing opposition and freedom of speech and destabilising the country’s neighbours, writes Murphy.

The British government’s highly controversial scheme to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda has put the country’s domestic and foreign policy under even greater scrutiny.

The Conversation

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