Title: Does the Commonwealth Have a Future? Location: Canada Description: On Wednesday, November 18, at 8 p.m., at the Royal United Services Institute of Regina, the Royal Commonwealth Society and the Canadian International Council present the Honourable Don Toth, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, and Greg Putz, Clerk of the Assembly.
Their topic will be: “Does the Commonwealth Have a Future? The Commonwealth as seen through the 2009 conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in September 2009 in Tanzania.” Date: 2009-11-18
“With the Commonwealth heads-of-government meeting in Port of Spain three weeks away, the debate continues about whether the Commonwealth has a future. At 60 years old, there are some who take the view that it is irrelevant – or, worse, drawing its last breath.
It is absolutely right that we should debate the Commonwealth’s future. But as someone who has spent my political life working to promote democratic freedoms, human rights and poverty eradication, I know where I stand: I believe the association will not only survive but has to thrive for the next 60 years and beyond.”
Title: Conversation Event in New Zealand Location: Wellington Date: 2009-10-21
On Wednesday 21st October 2009, a Commonwealth Conversation was held at Parliaments Beehive Theaterette, Wellington. Co-hosted by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade, the New Zealand Institute of International Studies and the Royal Commonwealth Society Trust in Wellington, this major seminar was chaired by the former Prime Minister of New Zealand Rt Hon Dame Jenny Shipley DNZM. Students who took part in the a Commonwealth Conversationevent in Auckland also introduced a video they had produced about the future of the Commonwealth to participants. After presentations on the Commonwealth by three distinguished media and academic commentators, participants broke into smaller discussion groups to discuss topics including the role of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group and what issues should be a priority for the Commonwealth.
After reconvening, several themes emerged in the discussion. Participants stated that while the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) provides a platform for collaboration and networking between heads of governments, it is perceived as a ‘secret society ‘with decisions being made behind closed doors. The CHOGM communiqué, meanwhile, is too complicated and lacks substance. To address these issues, participants suggested that the Commonwealth should make more use of the Peoples’ Forum (PF) and run it 12 months before CHOGM to allow real input from the PF to be incorporated into the CHOGM agenda.
Those present called for a change in the secretariat role to that akin to a Chief Executive Officer that plays a problem solving role rather than a policing role. Participants further suggested that the Commonwealth should concentrate on its core skills, do what it does best and stay away from areas dealt with by the UN and other organisations.
This is a Highlight package of the Commonwealth Conversation. In order the participants are the three students from the Auckland Secondary schools, John Allen, Professor James Belich and Dame Jenny Shipley.
Title: Conversation Event in Toronto Description: A panel discussing the theme ‘Harnessing Diversity: shaping the future of the Commonwealth’ was held on October 20th from 4-6 pm in the Upper Library at Massey College, University of Toronto. Date: 2009-10-20
The RCS Toronto branch submitted a report raising several points regarding the role of the Commonwealth in the 21st Century. The following are some of those issues raised:
On which key global issues should the Commonwealth focus its efforts?
It was felt by some that the Commonwealth must stand for something – and the world must know what it stands for!
Nations that violate the human rights of its citizens should not be allowed to continue its membership in the Commonwealth. Developed countries can set the example for how rights can be protected in civil society.
What role should the Commonwealth play in the new century?
The G-20 has become the main body for dealing with the global economy. Does the G-20 limit its scope to the 20 member nations? No, the Commonwealth must shift its focus from its own 53 members onto issues in the world that deal with the core principles previously outlined: democracy, rule of law, free enterprise and human rights.
Title: Conversation Event in Zimbabwe Location: Harare, University of Zimbabwe Description: A “Commonwealth Conversation” took place in Harare, at the University of Zimbabwe. A distinguished panel faced an audience of some 250. Debate was free and flowing. Date: 2009-10-09
Cameras at the event captured some of the thoughts of the attendees:
As part of the Commonwealth Conversation, the RCS has interviewed Vince Cable. Dr Cable is a popular British MP and former Special Advisor on Economic Affairs to Sir Sonny Ramphal at the Commonwealth Secretariat.
In an interview conducted by the RCS as part of the Commonwealth Conversation, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, Zimbabwean Minister for Regional Integration and International Cooperation, emphasised how important the Commonwealth is to Zimbabwe, but warned that it must do more to sell itself to the Zimbabwean people.
In an interview with Commonwealth Radio, the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, Stephenson King, described how Commonwealth membership is important to small states.
“Here in St Lucia, we value our membership highly. Not just for prestige, but for the kind of cooperation that exists between member territories, such as the advice that we receive, technical assistance and an opportunity to participate in the design of the modern world. The Commonwealth plays a major role in this. It is not influential within itself, but influential at the international level. We have a great opportunity to influence the direction of the world. Whether it is at the G20 or at the United Nations, our membership of 53 certainly goes a long way.”
Apologies to anyone who has wondered why I haven’t posted anything on the Director’s Blog for 6 weeks. I’ve been away on holiday (twice!) and then caught-up with various Conversation-related things. We are now approaching the half way point between when we launched the Conversation and CHOGM and things are hotting up both online and offline.
But, for me, one of the most intriguing questions about the Commonwealth’s future has been thrown into sharp relief over the last few days. Have a look at the video clips from the Australian and British Foreign Ministers. One quite clearly believes that protecting and promoting democracy should be the Commonwealth’s key priority, while the other thinks it should be around climate change.
What’s promising is that two important players are taking the Commonwealth so seriously. The challenge now is to work out how the Commonwealth can best respond to their challenges in either or both areas. Any views?
I promise to be more regular in my blog entries. Watch this space!