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Cracks in the Commonwealth

By Kelechi Anyanwu

FINANCE ministers and senior finance officials of Commonwealth countries met in Washington D.C yesterday on the sidelines of the ongoing IMF/World Bank annual meetings to deliberate on the theme, Post-2015 Global Development Framework. Though discussions focused on reform of global governance and finance, observers were quick to notice that The Gambia’s absence from the meeting shocked member-countries in attendance. A couple of months ago, the West African country had noisily threatened to pull out of the 54- member political grouping, denouncing it as a “neo-colonial institution’’ and “an extension of colonialism.”

Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma, who will address the media this morning at the IMF HQ2 Conference Hall 2, is said to be unhappy with The Gambia’s action and the level of attention the media is giving it. In a statement made available to AnnualMeetings Daily, he described the separation from the people of The Gambia as a loss for the Commonwealth family at large.

In an emotion-laden statement, he had said: “I recall with appreciation the warmth with which I was received when I visited Banjul last year. An extensive programme of collaboration and partnership was agreed to support The Gambia’s social and political progress as well as the advancement of the fundamental values of democracy, development and respect for diversity to which all member governments of the modern Commonwealth subscribe. Many Commonwealth citizens – old and young – will similarly have positive recollections and connections dating back over The Gambia’s longstanding membership, since it joined our association in 1965.’’ He concluded on a note of optimism that The Gambia will return to the fold.

A creation of the defunct the British Empire, the Commonwealth brings together around a quarter of the world’s countries and a third of its population. Many have continually questioned the importance of belonging to the Commonwealth, seeing the group as a vestige of Britain’s colonial history. A senior official of the group who spoke on condition of anonymity to AnnualMeetings Daily yesterday because he is not authorized to speak on such issues said the group is hurt by The Gambia’s accusations that the Commonwealth is an extension of colonialism.

He said that though it did not come as a shock that President Yahya Jammeh took that course, the organization is worried that this may open the vista for more agitations from other members whose citizenry may question the benefits of remaining in the group. Some other countries have in the past pulled out of the group such as Ireland in 1949, Fiji in 1987, but rejoined later and Zimbabwe in 2003.

The official also said that when it became clear that President Jammeh was likely to carry out his threat, the Commonwealth tried to get renowned Nigerian diplomat Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi to speak with Jammeh, but he was rebuffed by the incensed Gambian leader.

Reacting to the development, the Royal Commonwealth Society said the announcement appeared to be undemocratic. Michael Lake, Director of the educational charity, which works to promote international understanding throughout the Commonwealth, said The Gambia’s abrupt departure “will be a loss felt by both its people and the wider Commonwealth network.”

The surprise announcement “was seemingly made without recourse to due democratic process and without consulting the Gambia’s people or diaspora,” he said.

“Far from being a ‘neo-colonial institution’, the modern Commonwealth operates on a consensus model and its voluntary membership is predicated primarily on a country’s commitment to upholding shared values and principles, and developing the circumstances of all peoples of the countries of its members,” he added.

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