What the Com­mon­wealth of­fers Zim­babwe

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Love­more Ranga Mataire

BARRING any hur­dles, Zim­babwe is set to be for­mally read­mit­ted into the Com­mon­wealth at the in­ter­na­tional body’s next Heads of Gov­ern­ment Meet­ing sched­uled for Rwanda in 2020, af­ter suc­cess­fully sub­mit­ting its ap­pli­ca­tion for read­mis­sion in May this year.

Zim­babwe’s quest to re­join the Com­mon­wealth is among ef­forts to re­con­nect with the world af­ter years of iso­la­tion dur­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Mr Robert Mu­gabe’s rule.

Ques­tions have been raised as to why Zim­babwe is so keen to re­join the or­gan­i­sa­tion that it left in 2003 over mis­un­der­stand­ings in the man­ner in which Gov­ern­ment un­der­took land re­forms.

Some have raised con­cerns that the club seems to serve parochial in­ter­ests at the ex­pense of most mem­ber states, which makes the group­ing mori­bund.

How­ever, far from be­ing a mori­bund or­gan­i­sa­tion, there is much to ben­e­fit for coun­tries like Zim­babwe.

Given its cos­mopoli­tan com­po­si­tion, the Com­mon­wealth is needed to­day more than at any other time in his­tory given the com­plex and myr­iad prob­lems con­fronting the world.

It is im­por­tant to high­light the fact that the 54-na­tion or­gan­i­sa­tion played a crit­i­cal role in end­ing colo­nial­ism in South­ern Africa when it de­nounced the Uni­lat­eral Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence by Ian Smith in Zim­babwe and vig­or­ously cam­paigned against apartheid in South Africa.

The end of colo­nial­ism pre­sented an op­por­tu­nity for the club to fo­cus on wel­fare, se­cu­rity and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment is­sues af­fect­ing mem­ber states. Bound by a com­mon lin­gua franca - English - there is so much that the club can do, par­tic­u­larly in in­flu­enc­ing opin­ion in mul­ti­lat­eral af­fairs.

The first pos­i­tive at­tribute of the Com­mon­wealth is that its mem­ber­ship spreads across all con­ti­nents.

It em­braces ev­ery reli­gion, race and is made up of big, small, rich and poor na­tions who can all re­late on equal terms.

What this means is that the club cre­ates a plat­form where mem­ber states can eas­ily in­ter­act and ex­change ideas with­out go­ing the costly route of coun­try-to-coun­try diplo­matic en­gage­ment.

The sec­ond ben­e­fit for Zim­babwe is that the group en­com­passes na­tions that are also mem­bers of ev­ery re­gional, eco­nomic and trade or­gan­i­sa­tion in the world.

What this guar­an­tees is a plat­form for free and frank dis­cus­sions that are un­prece­dented in other group­ings.

The Com­mon­wealth is es­sen­tially a net­work of net­works, and the res­o­lu­tions it makes res­onate glob­ally.

Most of those op­posed to the Com­mon­wealth are crit­i­cal of its “Bri­tish­ness” and push the view that it is a con­duit through which the UK ex­er­cises in­flu­ence over for­mer colonies.

While this was the case at its in­cep­tion, the al­le­ga­tion can longer stick.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion ceased be­ing the Bri­tish Com­mon­wealth on April 27,1949 when the Heads of State and Gov­ern­ment de­clared their coun­tries to be “free and equal mem­bers of the Com­mon­wealth of Na­tions”, thereby, es­tab­lish­ing both vol­un­tary and equal mem­ber­ship.

Be­sides, there are other coun­tries such as Mozam­bique and Rwanda that were never colonised by the Bri­tish who are mem­bers. (Mozam­bique is a for­mer colony of Por­tu­gal, while Rwanda was once colonised by Bel­gium.)

The Com­mon­wealth rep­re­sents about 2,4 bil­lion peo­ple from both de­vel­oped and de­vel­op­ing na­tions. Thirty-one are small states, many of which are is­lands.

In 2015, trade among mem­ber states was es­ti­mated at around $600 bil­lion and is fore­cast to rise to about $13 tril­lion in 2020.

In fact, Com­mon­wealth coun­tries tend to trade 20 per­cent more and gen­er­ate 10 per­cent more FDI in­flows for mem­ber coun­tries.

In in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, per­cep­tion is every­thing.

Re­join­ing the Com­mon­wealth will def­i­nitely cre­ate a pos­i­tive global vibe for Zim­babwe and may be­come a cat­a­lyst for thaw­ing re­la­tions with other coun­tries that were hith­erto ad­ver­sar­ial.

Two years ago, An­tiguan and Bar­bu­dan aca­demic, diplo­mat and for­mer jour­nal­ist Sir Ron­ald San­ders made in­ter­est­ing points in ad­vanc­ing the good­ness of the Com­mon­wealth on his blog.

“At a very prac­ti­cal level, the Com­mon­wealth is very cost-ef­fec­tive form of diplo­macy for all its mem­bers - large and small,” he said.

San­ders cited the cam­paign by New Zealand for a non-per­ma­nent seat on the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil in 2014 when Com­mon­wealth coun­tries were a spe­cial fo­cus for the cam­paign, just as the fo­cus was on other coun­tries like Aus­tralia, Bri­tain, Canada and In­dia.

When a mem­ber seeks sup­port for a cause or a can­di­date in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, Com­mon­wealth mem­bers nor­mally iden­tify with each other.

In­deed, 54 Com­mon­wealth votes do mat­ter; so, too, does the in­flu­ence of those 53 coun­tries speak­ing up in or­gan­i­sa­tions through­out the world of which they are also mem­bers.

The coun­cils and meet­ings of the Com­mon­wealth are cost-ef­fi­cient means of a coun­try - big or small - to main­tain re­la­tions with 53 other coun­tries that could be of help to them.

For small states, the sig­nif­i­cance of the Com­mon­wealth lies pri­mar­ily in be­ing part of Sum­mit meet­ings that give their lead­ers the op­por­tu­nity to en­gage with lead­ers of some of the world’s ma­jor pow­ers on an equal foot­ing.

No other in­ter­na­tional or mul­ti­lat­eral or­gan­i­sa­tion af­fords them such an op­por­tu­nity.

But be­yond ac­cess, the Com­mon­wealth also de­liv­ers re­search and ad­vo­cacy vi­tal to the in­ter­ests of small states.

There are other huge ad­van­tages for mem­bers, es­pe­cially in the ar­eas of re­search on de­vel­op­ment is­sues, ad­vo­cacy of agreed po­si­tions on debt, trade fa­cil­i­ta­tion, fi­nanc­ing, global warm­ing where coun­tries can have ac­cess to re­sources that they might not have.

To­day, the world is in the throes of many chal­lenges, rang­ing from high un­em­ploy­ment, re­li­gious an­i­mos­ity, hege­monic ten­den­cies by pow­er­ful coun­tries to­wards neigh­bours, com­pe­ti­tion be­tween na­tions for re­sources that are be­com­ing scarce and the ever-widen­ing gap be­tween rich and power coun­tries.

While the Com­mon­wealth will not by it­self solve these prob­lems, its di­verse mem­ber­ship can make a huge con­tri­bu­tion in find­ing so­lu­tions to these prob­lems if only its lead­er­ship can ef­fec­tively man­age its di­ver­sity.

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