Uganda: Ready for Commonwealth; the Commonwealth Holds Its Biennial Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala, Uganda, from 23-25 November. Tom Mbakwe and Derek Ingram (an Executive Committee Member of the Commonwealth's Human Rights Initiative), Have Looked through Their Crystal Balls and Seen Some Tough Issues Lying in Wait for the Kampala Meeting

By Mbakwe, Tom; Ingram, Derek | New African, November 2007 | Go to article overview

Uganda: Ready for Commonwealth; the Commonwealth Holds Its Biennial Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala, Uganda, from 23-25 November. Tom Mbakwe and Derek Ingram (an Executive Committee Member of the Commonwealth's Human Rights Initiative), Have Looked through Their Crystal Balls and Seen Some Tough Issues Lying in Wait for the Kampala Meeting


Mbakwe, Tom, Ingram, Derek, New African


The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the highest decision-making body of the 53-member club of mainly former British colonies, is held every two years and brings together Commonwealth leaders to discuss global and Commonwealth issues, and to agree upon collective policies and initiatives.

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CHOGM has an eventful history. Its first meetings, which started in 1887, were known as Colonial Conferences. These were replaced in 1911 by Imperial Conferences which were held regularly until 1937.

In 1944, the meetings became the British Empire and Commonwealth of Nations Prime Ministers Meetings and were held almost annually in London. But with the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, and their inclusion in the Commonwealth, the subsequent meeting became known as the Commonwealth of Nations Prime Ministers Meeting. The words "British" and "Empire" were permanently dropped.

In 1971, in Singapore, the term Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) was adopted to encompass presidents, prime ministers and monarchs. Since then, CHOGMs have taken place on a biennial basis.

Of the 53 member countries, 18 are African, including Cameroon and Mozambique which are not technically former British colonies. The other African members are: Botswana, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

Zimbabwe used to be a member, but it withdrew its membership in 2003 in protest against the non-lifting of its suspension two years earlier, on account of the political troubles in the country.

As CHOGM brings together leaders sharing a common language--English--the breakdown of communication barriers means that exchange of views can be frank and honest, especially at the Executive Retreat which gives the prime ministers and presidents an informal environment to trash out thorny issues. Member states--regardless of size, population and financial contributions--have an equal say and vote, at least on paper. In reality, however, the "White Commonwealth" comprising Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, by virtue of their financial clout and global political muscle, have been dominant and sometimes unduly influenced decisions to their individual or collective advantage. CHOGM decisions and initiatives, again on paper, are only taken by consensus but in recent years, especially under the secretary-generalship of Don McKinnon, certain critical decisions, particularly on Zimbabwe, have not always been taken by consensus, to the chagrin of some African member countries.

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As the popular belief goes, the Commonwealth is about human rights and democracy or it is about nothing. Human rights problems abound in the 53 member countries, but it would be wrong to conclude that Commonwealth countries have a poor record by comparison with non-Commonwealth countries. On the contrary, if analysed region by region, Commonwealth countries come out rather better.

Nonetheless, the Kampala CHOGM is likely to be one of the most difficult for many years. Among the major issues that will confront the leaders are the situations in Pakistan, Fiji and Bangladesh, but to these must be added the Maldives, The Gambia and Sri Lanka as well as unsettling recent developments in parts of the Pacific such as Solomon Islands, Tonga and Papua New Guinea. Each poses human rights problems, and challenges the basic principles laid down and accepted by all member states in the Singapore Declaration of Commonwealth Principles of 1971, the Harare Declaration of 1991, and the Millbrook Action Programme of 1995.

Of special concern must be the position of the host country, Uganda, whose president, Yoweri Museveni, will chair the meeting and then automatically become chairperson-in-office of the Commonwealth until the next CHOGM is held in Trinidad in 2009. …

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Uganda: Ready for Commonwealth; the Commonwealth Holds Its Biennial Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala, Uganda, from 23-25 November. Tom Mbakwe and Derek Ingram (an Executive Committee Member of the Commonwealth's Human Rights Initiative), Have Looked through Their Crystal Balls and Seen Some Tough Issues Lying in Wait for the Kampala Meeting
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