Sunday, April 14, 2024

OUR CARIBBEAN: African candidate has edge

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THE SUDDEN withdrawal of Sir Ronald Sanders from the contest for a new secretary general of the 54-member Commonwealth has increased the possibility of a candidate from Africa being endorsed at next year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta.

And the most likely successor to outgoing two-term Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma of India could well be Botswana’s Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba. She is one of two current incumbent deputy secretaries general (political affairs), with the other being Trinidad and Tobago’s incumbent Deodat Maharaj (economic affairs).

Given the history and general pattern of electing a Commonwealth secretary general for two successive terms (the Caribbean’s indomitable iconic statesman Sir Shridath Ramphal being an exception with three terms), as well as a tradition of geographical choices, the Commonwealth Caribbean and Africa are the current two regions eligible to offer nominations for election at next November’s summit.              

Since the British monarch is head of the Commonwealth and Britain the headquarters of the Commonwealth Secretariat, the secretary general has traditionally been elected from a Commonwealth member state while the government in London is known to maintain keen interest and quiet diplomacy in the choice of potential candidates. 

The current scenario, ahead of next year’s summit, is therefore no exception, starting first with unofficial canvassing by British officials and diplomats on behalf of Baroness Amos and, currently, though with apparently less caution, on behalf of Baroness Scotland, the declared candidate of Dominica.

Baroness Amos is of Guyanese origin and, like Baroness Scotland, who is of Dominican origin, was two years of age when she was taken to live in the then colonial ruler of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nations.

Guyana declines

Guyana has reportedly declined, “on a matter of principle”, to endorse the candidature of Baroness Amos as a “citizen”, alluding to her official status as a citizen and high-profile political personality of Britain.

When the government of Dominica officially announced Baroness Scotland as its candidate for the post and the government of Antigua and Barbuda made public its choice of Sir Ronald Sanders, CARICOM Heads of Government opted to adopt the route of consensus for the Community’s preference. This route revealed some disturbing and unflattering political manoeuvrings.

In between the candidatures of Baroness Scotland and Sir Ronald, there was also the announced decision of Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Planning and Sustainable Development Dr Bhoe Tewarie, with his long history in the field of higher education and politics, to also contest the post.

The surprise, of course, was that Dr Tewarie’s fellow Trinidad and Tobago national, Maharaj, is the current incumbent deputy secretary general for economic affairs and development.

However, while their expected “consensus” on the choice of a CARICOM candidate did not materialise, as expected, last Sunday in Havana, on the eve of the fifth CARICOM-Cuba Summit on Monday, the Community’s leaders were expected to declare their intention to do so do by their forthcoming Inter-Sessional Meeting in February.

Despite clearly enjoying majority CARICOM support – nine out of an eligible dozen member countries – compared with three for Baroness Scotland, Sir Ronald felt he’d had enough waiting while others (for example, Botswana’s Masire-Mwamba and Dominica’s Baroness Scotland) were campaigning for the position.

The voting constituencies ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta involve a dozen CARICOM states, 18 from Africa, 13 from the Pacific, eight Asian and three European states.

Since, on the basis of rotation, Africa seems to have the edge among Commonwealth member states, Africa member countries seem to have more leverage in the choice. And Botswana’s Masire-Mwamba has been garnering some significant support, according to media reports.

The daughter of a former president of Botswana, she is reported to have already secured endorsement from the Southern Africa Development Community amid CARICOM’s elusive quest for a “consensus” candidate.

And this, mind you, amid some recurring controversial arguments over media-generated debates on the  relevance of today’s 54-member Commonwealth in the 21st century.

Stay tuned.

 Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.

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