The Africa Head of the Royal Commonwealth Society John Apea has welcomed the readmission of Gambia into the Commonwealth.
Mr Apea believes the return of Gambia is a testament to the Commonwealth’s commitment to democracy, equality and rule of law.
Gambia under its former leader Yahya Jammeh pulled out of the Commonwealth in 2013, describing it as a neo-colonial institution.
With a new leader, Adama Barrow in place, the West African country is seeking to rebuild stronger ties with the international community and with institutions which had a strained relationship with Gambia as a result of the despotic leadership of Jammeh.
Reiterating the relevance of the Commonwealth to the current generation of leaders across the world, the Africa Head of the Royal Commonwealth Society said the share numbers of members within the Commonwealth provides a great opportunity for networking between member states.
Ahead of the Commonwealth biannual get together in April 2018, John Apea has written a piece reiterating the importance of the Commonwealth.
“There is a practical and ethical imperative – despite differences in terms of geographic proximity and/or economic development levels - to discuss the possibility of enhanced formal intra-Commonwealth economic and trade cooperation,” he said.
The following is the full piece;
The Commonwealth is very relevant today
In April of this Year, 53 nations of the world will convene in London for the Commonwealth of Nations bi-annual get together, the Commonwealth Summit. Over the past 24 hours, Gambia’s readmission to the Commonwealth seems to be consuming most, if not all, the ink flowing through writings on the upcoming summit. This is hardly surprising, following the 2013 shock pullout of Gambia from the Commonwealth by former President Yahya Jammeh, who branded the Commonwealth as an “extension of colonialism”.
What exactly is the Commonwealth?
Formerly referred to as the “British Commonwealth”, the modern version as we know it today was created approximately 50 years ago, by shedding off its British tag and metamorphosing into the less ‘British-centric’ Commonwealth of Nations. The Harare declaration (1991) is often billed as the Commonwealth’s core set of principles and values. These include economic prosperity and development, the rule of law, world peace and democracy, to name but a few. Today, the Commonwealth cuts across every continent, religion and race on the planet, something no other organisation besides the United Nations can boast. It is home to over 2.4 billion people, representing over a third of the world population; approximately 60% are under the age of 30.
Does it have detractors?
Yes. Although Britain is no longer dominant in what is a voluntary organisation made up of equal and sovereign states, critics of the Commonwealth have often erroneously posited it as an ‘Imperialistic relic’ that bolsters the U. K’s sense of self -importance and acts as a much-needed placebo for its loss of the Empire and its underachievement at all international sport championships, except the Commonwealth Games. Similarly, critics have questioned the Commonwealth’s effectiveness, accusing it of sitting idly while abusive regimes such as Yahya’s Gambia, flagrantly flouted its values and spurned its advice.
Is it relevant today?
Very. If it wasn’t, there will not be a queue to join. The Commonwealth is as relevant today, as it has always been. This is evidenced by the waiting list of countries eager to join its ranks, together with the fact that it rejected various countries who have sought to be part of its network. Furthermore, in recent years, even countries that were not former British colonies, such as Mozambique and Rwanda, have applied and been accepted into the Commonwealth of Nations. The rationale behind this need to join the Commonwealth is a very simple one. Specifically, the vast network of the Commonwealth means that in terms of GDP and output, The Commonwealth and The EU are in a dead-heat, although the Commonwealth’s growth is projected to exponentially outstrip that of the EU over the next few decades. This means that developed nations, as well as otherwise isolated and/or impoverished nations are able to network with one another and benefit from aggregated soft power, economic development and mutual prosperity. Furthermore, The Commonwealth’s commitment to the principles of democracy, equality and the rule of law has been evident in its continuous effort to bring illegitimate governments to order. Probably the best example of this commitment was the Commonwealth’s role in opposing apartheid in South Africa. It is a well-known fact that fervent debate on apartheid and how it could be abolished took place in every Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, between South Africa’s exit in 1961, and its readmission in 1994.
What’s next for the Commonwealth
The Commonwealth has chalked some great successes since its inception. From social interventions to in - country technical assistance and advisory, it has held its own and maintained its relevance within a crowded arena of international organisation’s jostling for dominance. However, in the memorable words of my preparatory school teacher, there is more room for improvement. As the Commonwealth summit approaches, there is a practical and ethical imperative – despite differences in terms of geographic proximity and/or economic development levels - to discuss the possibility of enhanced formal intra-Commonwealth economic and trade cooperation. This is the missing piece, the jigsaw puzzle. Before the horse bolts, the Commonwealth community must get in the saddle and steer it toward continued significance and relevance.
John Apea, RCS Africa Head