Irrelevance of CHOGM summit
No matter how eloquently a justification for the existence of an organization like Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is presented, its vagueness and futility cannot be underestimated. No one has a clear idea, except Britain, why such a grouping exists and what it exactly promotes. Although to its members it is a voluntary association of independent states in the enterprise of promoting democracy, good government, human rights and economic development, the Commonwealth has been criticized for being a post-colonial hub with little influence and relevance. Indeed, it doesn’t enjoy any influence over non-members and is not even recognized as a bloc of worth in international affairs.
So far, CHOGM’s achievements are confined to promoting British interests and sometimes, profit-making. It has no connection with promoting democracy, freedom of expression, development and universal values, except selective rhetoric from time to time. It is a bogus claim in a post-colonial global network.
Formerly known as the British Commonwealth, the Commonwealth of Nations is a lose association of former British colonies and current dependents, along with some countries that have no prior ties to Britain. Essentially, CHOGM stems from the infamous ‘Imperial Conferences’, which were, at that time, organized to accommodate the increasing assertiveness and independence of dominions. To perpetuate Britain’s superiority in the post-colonial world it was altered and sold to the world as the ‘Commonwealth Foundation’. Then, when it became clear that nations were becoming increasingly integrated and power increasingly decentralized, the nature of this grouping was again altered to legitimize its existence.
It was in 1947, after the independence of India that the Commonwealth acquired its modern shape. Although it dropped the word ‘British’ from its name and allegiance to the crown and become an association of decolonized nations, the British monarch, however, remained the official head of the Commonwealth.
Today, although the organization, with Britain as its de-facto leader, claims to promote democracy, peaceful development and human rights in its former colonies, it is actually nothing more than a baton celebrating Britain’s colonial legacy. This is evident because this group hasn’t achieved anything substantial since its inception.
Non serious grouping
Through CHOGM, and other such channels established for the so-called Commonwealth grouping, Britain is subtly practicing neo-imperialist policies. It has managed to market the brand of the Commonwealth to its former colonies as a ticket to some sort of higher-status, only to continue seeking its own interests.
The little influence it does enjoy over its own members is through the benefits of membership. It brings cooperation on developmental and international goals, but even these efforts have been criticized for the lack of action. This is also because unlike other blocs or groupings, the Commonwealth members have no contractual obligations and members merely commit themselves to the statements of belief, drawn from moral authority.
The Commonwealth has no constitution or charter and hence, is far from being recognized as a serious bloc. The heads of government of its member states still, for some incomprehensible reason continue to hold CHOGM in high regard, without realizing that by being part of an outdated theme, they are only engaging in a talk-show like setup, with no relevant clout on the global stage.
Therefore, despite the reasons given by many smaller states to be a part of such an organization, CHOGM itself doesn’t do much to elevate their stand in the global stage. Providing equal footing in an irrelevant and outdated setup doesn’t amount to much in today’s geo-political landscape.
The nomenclature is also misguiding, because there is nothing ‘common’ in this Commonwealth grouping. CHOGM has only served Britain’s strategic interests, which has been exposed through several instances.
For instance, while Zimbabwe was suspended from the group on grounds of Human Rights violations in 2003, Britain has fully embraced Sri Lanka as a host for the CHOGM conference, which is due to be held in November 2013. This is despite the fact that currently, Sri Lanka is itself battling allegations of Human Rights violations. The Amnesty International group has lashed out at the Sri Lankan government as well as the Commonwealth for endorsing a government involved in crimes against humanity. Even the lawmakers in UK have expressed concern over the British government’s ‘timidity’ over Sri Lanka. Protestors in Sri Lanka demanding the boycott of the summit have been banned from protesting, which has also been taken as a poor attempt to brush away human rights abuses.
If this wasn’t enough to expose its double standards, the fact that it only acted under pressure from India to suspend Pakistan for Musharaff’s coup and not because it itself stood against anti-democratic ideals was another insight to its selective rhetoric.
In addition, Fiji was completely suspended from the Commonwealth in 2009 for failure to return to democracy. This is despite the fact that it was already suspended in 1987 after it endured two military coups, but then, reinstated again in 1997 after holding elections. Such a chequered relationship did not only deter Fiji’s confidence in the international sphere, as Commonwealth’s decisions made other groupings also isolate Fiji, but also severely cut off little but important aid at a time when the country needed it the most.
The induction of countries like Rwanda and Mozambique, which are not even former colonies of the British Empire, only signals an attempt to tap into the market of developed economies through a sophisticated channel like CHOGM. It also shows that Britain is willing to compromise on the ‘common’ experiences, which is the basis of the grouping in the first place.
Though Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already boycotted this year’s CHOGM summit for the same reasons, the rest of the member countries’ have paid little heed to this concern.
CHOGM as an organization, and particularly Britain as its leader, have done very little to tangibly address serious issues that are faced by the developing world. If anything, shows reckless irresponsibility when it allows developing countries like South Africa and Sri Lanka to spend millions on hosting CHOGM conferences, instead of tackling vital socio-economic issues.
Their initiative to be accountable for its statements of belief has only been to the extent of the creation of Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which was set up in 1995 with the function of dealing with those governments which violate commonwealth principles. It can take measures such as imposing economic sanctions or suspending members.
However, the committee is as good as ceremonial. Then there is the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC) which is the main way in which the Commonwealth promotes economic and social development, however, its achievements have been extremely limited. In addition, the donors are often biased in their funding, for they seek to fund only for those countries/projects that serve their commercial purposes. Therefore, because the funding is biased, its program is not equally deployed to genuine issues.
Albeit, Gambia has been able to see through the organization and has decided to not be a part of this bandwagon, as it doesn’t wish to be a member of any neo-colonial institution and has decided that it will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism.
Even after such significant evidence working against CHOGM, it is surprising that the member countries are not able to see such a blatant display of Britain’s colonial legacy. Far from criticizing it, they are active members of the bandwagon that celebrates it.
Perhaps, in a sense they feel that their status is uplifted by being a member of a global network such as this. But even then, it isn’t a convincing explanation for their undeterred support to the Commonwealth. It is extremely intriguing as well as unfortunate, that these countries are not willing to break away from their respective colonial legacies.
Therefore, the summation is that developing countries like South Africa, Sri Lanka and India must break away from such groupings because it doesn’t serve their any interests. This grouping too, should be dissolved for even though 54 countries are a part of it, it is merely ceremonial and lacks significance.
It won’t be long before the ‘greatness’ of Great Britain dissolves. Its economy is struggling. Already the United Kingdom is threatened by Scotland and Northern Ireland’s demands for secession. If this is indeed fulfilled, which it will be according to numerous studies, England will lose considerable clout in the international sphere.
Therefore, not much relevance should be attached to a group like CHOGM by developing countries, because they have more vital issues to tackle than pledge merely ceremonial allegiances to their former colonizers.