The Commonwealth Of Nations: Gentleman’s Club Or People-Centered Club?

The 25th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) has finally closed its doors in the English city of London. It was declared open by Queen Elizabeth II, who called on the CHOGM members to religiously appoint her apparent heir, Charles, Prince of Wales, to succeed her in the largely ceremonial role as head of the Commonwealth.

Other leaders who took to the rostrum were Right Hon Patricia Scotland QC, Secretary General of the Commonwealth of Nations, who stressed on the fact that CHOGM is a forum which represents the people around the world, especially the marginalized. She also reiterated the organization’s quest for greater democracy and upholding of human right values in member states. In her own remarks, British Prime Minister Theresa May, who chaired proceedings, affirmed that the organization has faced difficulties, successes, and controversies but on the hold, it can do better.

However, while the meeting was going on, citizens in member countries seem to have criticized the Commonwealth for being a gentleman’s club that assembles leaders biennially for a Champagne toast and speechmaking rather than touching on the citizen’s problems.

Despite the organization’s insistence on values such as human rights and democracy, most of its member states, especially those in Africa, are still swimming in the pool of undemocratic practices and gross human rights abuses. In Kenya, the last elections are yet to bring a respite of peace and development on the face of the citizens because of its controversial nature. Africa’s most populated country, Nigeria, whose President was remarkably present at the meeting, has been tagged severally for gross human right abuses, especially orchestrated by the military and police. In recent times, the leader of the Shiite Muslims, El-Zakzaky, is being held in detention for close to three years despite a court ruling ordering his release.

Nigeria’s neighbour, Cameroon, has been in the limelight in recent times because of the unrest in its Anglophone regions. With tens of petitions sent to the Commonwealth detailing the summary executions, unfair trials, burning down of villages, and forced displacements of thousands by the military and government, the Commonwealth has largely maintained sealed lips. Not even the visit of the organization’s SG to the country in December 2017 could prevent these atrocities from being committed. Moreover, it is still within the Commonwealth that two of Africa’s longest serving dictators are found; Paul Biya of Cameroon, who has been in power for 35 years, and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, who has led the country since 1986.

However, the Commonwealth could as well argue that two of its African members, Nigeria and South Africa, are harbingers of the continent’s largest economy, while Rwanda holds one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Most of these countries, including Botswana, Ghana, and Sierra Leone, have, in recent times, organized some of the best and freest elections in the world.

With the numerous conflicts around the world, especially in Africa, the Commonwealth can establish an imposing conflict management mechanism which intervenes even before the outbreak of violence. It should also be strengthened by a mediation and good office instrument which ensures that the Commonwealth becomes a real solution enabler. Moreover, its human rights and democratic standards should be non-negotiable but implemented everywhere and every time is taken into consideration for the local realities of the people.

Since it came into being in 1931 in order to maintain British values even after the independence of its former colonies, its membership has moved from the initial 5 (United Kingdom, Canada, the Irish Free State, Newfoundland and the Union of South Africa) to 53 in recent times. Every two years, heads of governments and Presidents meet in a designated country to reflect on promoting the organization’s values.