Commonwealth requires bold, innovative thinking to navigate global crises – Pres Ali
– Baroness Scotland returned as SG; 2 new member countries added to bloc
By Jarryl Bryan
Emphasizing the need for the 56-member Commonwealth bloc to learn how to come up with its own solutions internally, President Dr Irfaan Ali on Saturday used the closing press conference of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2022 to stress the need for boldness, vision and innovative thinking.
During a press conference where he was flanked by Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Patricia Scotland and President of Sierra Leone Julius Maada Bio, the President also lauded Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame. President Ali praised Kagame, the incoming chair of the Commonwealth, and highlighted the lessons that the region can draw from Kagame’s own run as President.
“Perhaps if we could sum this up, what the world and commonwealth need now is stability, bold innovative, and visionary thinking. And the combination of our SG and incoming Chair offers us a great opportunity,” President Ali said.
“When you look at what President Kagame has achieved here, with the people of Rwanda, it talks about a leader and a country that has a vision, and bold and creative initiatives. And when you look at the crises and insecurities we’re facing in the world today, food crisis, energy and climate crisis, a crisis of inequality, we require this type of leadership and these characteristics to navigate us through these difficult paths.”
Ali noted that Kagame’s entrance as Chairman of the Commonwealth is a timely one in order to confront the challenges the developing world faces. According to him, it is time for the developing world to come up with its own answers to the problems the region faces, without looking to the developed world.
“It is this type of leadership and example by doing, that is required in creating some of the changing circumstances that is critically needed. So having a chair that brings that experience in a practical way, I think allows us to have something that is functional, direct, and creative in dealing with the challenges,” President Ali said.
Last week, President Ali, First Lady Arya Ali, and a team of Government officials joined Commonwealth leaders in Kigali, Rwanda for the CHOGM, which was held under the theme “Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming.”
There were a number of decisions taken at the CHOGM, which will guide the work programme of the Commonwealth Secretariat. Among those decisions was the re-appointment of Baroness Scotland as Commonwealth Secretary-General.
Scotland first assumed the role in 2016, and her four-year term was temporarily extended in 2020 in response to the pandemic. But she had faced some opposition headed into this year’s CHOGM. The United Kingdom (UK), among others, had been critical of the Secretariat’s governance and financial stability.
Scotland’s significant challenger was Jamaican Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith. Smith had the backing of the UK, India, and Belize, while Scotland was backed by Dominica and Antigua, and Barbuda. Speaking after her reappointment on Friday, Baroness Scotland had focused on the need for unity within the bloc.
“It is deeply humbling to have been reappointed as Secretary-General of this great Commonwealth. To continue to serve our family of nations is a true honour and a privilege and I will do so to the best of my ability. We will face the world’s challenges with unity and purpose,” she said.
Another decision was for Samoa to host the next CHOGM in 2024. Additionally, two countries- the Gabonese Republic and the Togolese Republic, were admitted to the Commonwealth as new members. This increases what was a 54 bloc Commonwealth of nations to 56.
CHOGM was initially scheduled to take place in June of 2020 but was postponed twice owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Accompanying President Ali were Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Hugh Todd and the Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Ambassador Elisabeth Harper.
Prince Charles represented Queen Elizabeth II and opened the meeting. The United Kingdom Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, also handed over the role of chair-in-office of the Commonwealth to the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame.
Prior to the Gabonese Republic and the Togolese Republic, Rwanda was the most recent country to have joined the Commonwealth – in 2009. This will be the first CHOGM held in an African country since Uganda in 2007.
Apart from the issues relating to the theme, the Rwandan Government had also identified health as a key focus. This also included discussions on the effects of COVID-19 on wider health services and ongoing Commonwealth commitments to halve malaria in the Commonwealth by 2023 and ensure access to quality eye care.
Following the CHOGM in Kigali, President Ali and the First Lady will be travelling to Suriname to participate in the Suriname Energy, Oil & Gas Summit & Exhibition (SEOGS) 2022 in Paramaribo on June 27- 28.