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October 22, 2018

The Future of the Commonwealth

Ugandan high commissioner  Angelina Wapakhabulo during the commonwealth war remembrance at the commonwealth war graves cemetery along Ngong road yesterday. Photo/Monicah Mwangi
Ugandan high commissioner Angelina Wapakhabulo during the commonwealth war remembrance at the commonwealth war graves cemetery along Ngong road yesterday. Photo/Monicah Mwangi

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2018 (CHOGM 2018), currently ongoing, professes a forward looking theme – Toward a Common Future. Shroud under this theme, delegations from the 53 member states of The Commonwealth seek to discuss issues concerning prosperity, security, fairness and sustainability. Particularly, issues currently dominating the global discussion – trade and investment, global terrorism, cyber security and democracy, are expected to take centre stage.

Focusing on trade, Kenya is taking this opportunity to boost foreign direct investment in the country, with the President expected to hold a number of side-line forums with international investors, marketing Kenya as an investment hub prime for development, especially in light of the Big Four Agenda. This will culminate in a visit to the London Stock Exchange (LSE) targeted at charming tangible investments and trade partnerships.

However, Kenya is not the only nation seeking to utilise CHOGM 2018 as a platform to promote trade and investment. This marking the first CHOGM since Brexit, the British government is keen on maximising this platform to open negotiations for expanded trade with her Commonwealth partners. Given that the European Union accounts for nearly half of British trade, CHOGM 2018 will be an opportune moment for Britain to recalibrate her international ties. However, the significance of such a move, at least for Britain, may not be all that apparent. Given that The Commonwealth accounts for only a tenth of British trade, it is highly unlikely that increased intra-Commonwealth trade is likely to impact to Britain’s bottom line.

The potential surrounding CHOGM 2018 notwithstanding, a challenge that must be addressed is the relevance of The Commonwealth in the current day. Proponents of The Commonwealth often tout a ‘shared history’ and promote the ‘Commonwealth values’ as underpinning its relevance in today’s society; however, the weight carried by those words is rapidly diminishing. While in its early days the organisation played a prominent role in the international stage – particularly in relation to its role in ending white minority rule in Zimbabwe and apartheid South Africa – the same can not be said today.

Rather, the Commonwealth faces ever increasing criticisms, with the Guardian taking this a step further and terming it as the British Empire 2.0. Despite Britain largely taking a back seat in relation to commonwealth affairs, the role that Britain played in creating the ‘shared history’ touted by the Commonwealth is not to be forgotten. Couple this with The Commonwealth’s relevance in today’s international stage, comparative to similar groupings such as the G7, G20 and NATO, some may argue that The Commonwealth is truly obsolete.

This, presents an opportunity for its African and Caribbean members. If properly restructured and rebranded, The Commonwealth can serve not as a perceived British tool, but rather a powerful conglomerate representing the views of nearly a third of the world’s population.

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