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Different strokes in race for Commonwealth secretary general



Saturday, December 20, 2014

THE Caribbean Community's failure to reach a consensus on a candidate for the post of secretary general of the 54-member Commonwealth could prove a blessing for Africa, in particular the southern African state of Botswana.

While two Caricom states, Dominica and Trinidad and Tobago, have candidates of their own -- Britain's Baroness Scotland in the case of Dominica, and Dr Bhoe Tiwarie, minister of planning and economic affairs for T&T -- two others (Barbados and Belize) have been vacillating, resulting in a consensus proving elusive.

Not surprisingly, though quite disappointingly for community heads of government who support his candidacy, there came this past week the announced withrawal by Sir Ronald Sanders from the contest.

That unexpected decision by the long-serving ambassador came as a surprise for even some of the governments of the Eastern Caribbean. It has now increased the possibility of a candidate from Africa being endorsed at next year's Conference of Commonwealth Heads of Government scheduled for November in Malta.

So the most likely successor to the outgoing two-term Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma of India could well be Botswana's Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba. Until a few months ago, she was one of two deputy secretaries general (Political Affairs) -- the other being Trinidad and Tobago's incumbent Deodat Maharaj (Economic Affairs).

And, given the history and general pattern of electing a Commonwealth secretary general for two successive terms -- the indomitable Caribbean 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 of the new secretary general.

Since the British monarch is head of the Commonwealth, and Britain is the headquarters for the Commonwealth Secretariat, the British government is known to maintain keen interest and quiet diplomacy in the selection process.

Proxy candidates?

However, a curious development has emerged in the current scenario ahead of next year's Commonwealth summit in Malta. There are reports of British diplomats showing more than casual interest in favour of Baroness Scotland's candidacy, and doing so with less caution than previously displayed in relation to that of Baroness Amos. Consequently, prevailing suggestions are of British "proxy" candidates in the campaign for a new secretary general.

Baroness Amos is of Guyanese origin, while Baroness Scotland is of Dominican origin. They were both pretty young when they were taken to England where they became British citizens and rose to prominent political and other positions. Guyana, however, had reportedly declined, "on a matter of principle", to endorse the candidacy of Baroness Amos.

By the time Dominica had announced Baroness Scotland as its candidate for the post, and Antigua and Barbuda made public its choice of Sir Ronald, Caricom heads of government had opted to go the route of finding a "consensus candidate" considering that Trinidad and Tobago's Dr Tewarie had also announced his campaign for the office..

Of note, though, the majority of governments within the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) subregion, as well as others like Jamaica and Guyana, have been known to be strongly supportive of Sanders' candidacy, and were prepared to await next February's inter-sessional meeting of CARICOM leaders to reach a consensus. Now an African candidate seems the most likely choice in preference to a British 'proxy' choice from this region.

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

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

The daughter of a former president of Botswana, Masire-Mwamba is reported to have already secured endorsement for the Commonwealth Secretariat's top post from the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) amid Caricom's elusive quest for a consensus candidate.

Rickey Singh is a Barbados-based noted Caribbean journalist.