What the Commonwealth offers Zimbabwe
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.