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NOW THAT BRITAIN'S Baroness Scotland (Dominican by birth) has secured the much sought-after prize as new secretary general of the 53-member Commonwealth, some reflections on the future functioning of the London-headquartered secretariat seem quite relevant.
Moreso as the baroness, a former attorney general of Britain, had secured her victory by merely two votes last month in a tense battle at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in Malta against Africa’s M. Masire-Mwamba of Botswana. Until a few months prior to the summit, she was deputy secretary general of the Commonwealth (political affairs).
That tense two-way contest between Scotland and Botswana’s candidate had followed the withdrawal from the contest by Antigua and Barbuda’s long-serving, London-based ambassador, Sir Ronald Sanders. He had originally started his campaign as the overwhelmingly favoured candidate from CARICOM, with a guaranteed dozen votes compared to two for Scotland, as cast by Barbados and Dominica.
While differences erupted within CARICOM over her choice, with Dominica-backed nomination and support within CARICOM from just Barbados, the widening differences among Commonwealth governments remained and ended in a tense win for the baroness.
It therefore seems that no amount of orchestrated public relations-type publicity could alter the harsh reality that unfortunate as it certainly must be, the divisions that prevailed in Malta last month in the choice of a new secretary general for a Commonwealth currently losing much of its former political clout and economic influence, cannot be seriously ignored.
In a pre-summit commentary on the outcome of the Malta Summit, the writer Matthew Neuhaus noted the need for a much reformed action agenda “for a renewal” of the Commomwealth by the newly elected secretary general – the sixth in the long, 50-year history of the once high-profile grouping of former British colonies.
According to him, what the Commonwealth needs above all at this time in a new secretary general is a change agent, thought leader, motivator and manager. It also needs someone who can develop a shared vision for a Commonwealth facing crisis – in relevance, funding and commitment – which seems graver than any it has faced before.
The question of immediate relevance is: Can Baroness Scotland rise to the real and perceived challenges at this period when regional, hemispheric and international political, economic and security challenges are multiplying with much fierceness?
And what post-Malta summit perspectives are our CARICOM Heads of Government prepared to offer apart from their occasional customary headline-oriented responses to the challenges to be faced?
Prior to writing today’s column, I sought a post-summit reaction from the Caribbean’s illustrious iconic son, Sir Shridath Ramphal, the first and only three successive Commonwealth secretary general, on his own thinking of the election of Baroness Scotland and the post-Malta challenges to be addressed. Regretably, but not surprisingly, he declined. Perhaps for more than personal reasons.
For starters, it’s no secret that Sir Ronald is a son-in-law of Sir Shridath, whose unique three terms as secretary general had coincided with Zimbabwe’s pre-independence crisis, as well as resolution to the long battle for Nelson Mandela’s freedom and the end of the heinous crime of apartheid in South Africa.
For those with sufficient interest, Sir Shridath’s epic autobiography, Glimpses Of A Global Life, could well prove a most timely and rewarding read as we await the contributions to come from Baroness Scotland.
Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.