Senator Kamina Johnson Smith could be the catalyst that breathes new life and renewed meaning into the Commonwealth of Nations — arguably an institution which has mostly represented a space of silent contention with regard to its identity as a union of nations drawn together by a history that perhaps robbed some of their own identity and endowed others with a questionable sense of self and purpose.
While the organisation has historically gifted us with shared democratic values and a common language, its relevance in 2022 has been questioned by some member countries. However, with the recent announcement of the candidature of Kamina Johnson Smith for the post of secretary general, many have been nursing rekindled hopes of relevance and currency when negotiating debates and concerns regarding the “common (potential for) good” of the Commonwealth.
I believe that the appointment of Senator Kamina Johnson Smith as secretary general of the Commonwealth would be a step in the direction towards reshaping the institution in our own image. It is an opportunity for Jamaica’s own pedigree to take centre stage and change the game to remodel and reshape the Commonwealth into an organisation that belongs to these times.
Jamaica has blazed enough trails on the sporting tracks of the Commonwealth Games for the world to know what we can do. This appointment would just be another win for Jamaica to the world — presenting a world-class candidate forged by the diplomacy of one love, steadied and girded by a solid education and track record as a geopolitical mover and shaker.
Given the tectonic shifts happening in geopolitics, framed in the context of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and compounded by the current Ruso-Ukrainian conflict, it is not unwise for countries to seek shelter and protection within blocs that represent significant commonalities of principles, values and history.
For what it’s worth in this context, history is worth quite a lot. Given our common history and the scalable safety net that the institution can become during these turbulent times, the Commonwealth is the organising framework which holds great hope and promise for all member states.
The Commonwealth was formed during the first half of the 20th century; a time when the plates of global politics shifted towards the decolonisation movements of many territories of the former British Empire, seeing them gaining increased self-governance. The current Commonwealth of Nations was formally constituted in the post-World War II era of 1949, modernising the community and establishing member states as “free and equal”. Whether all states had been created and treated as equal throughout the life of the Commonwealth so far is a matter to be disputed. But what remains indisputable is the fact that this institution has stood ravaging tests of time and continues to evolve into the 21st century.
Part of this evolution, and perhaps even revolution, would be the election of Kamina Johnson Smith to the post of secretary general. Given her current position as minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade in Jamaica she would bring a unique perspective and tool kit of experience and connections to the role. She has met and negotiated with world leaders of all ilks in the diverse arenas of global politics.
Minister Johnson Smith has served as president of the Organisation of African Caribbean and Pacific States Council of Ministers, Chair of CARIFORUM and the Caricom Council on Trade and Economic Development. She was also the first Jamaican foreign minister to be invited to G7 and G20 ministerial meetings. This breath of experience and exposure demonstrates that Minister Johnson Smith is primed and ready to take on the job of chief re-shaper of this institution which has the potential for its impact to become known and felt among member citizens as much more than just the institution that organises the Commonwealth Games every two years.
We are at a time in history when many member states have been questioning the substance of their membership of this group, generally viewed as a colonial holdover and relic of the past. Many consider the notion of equal partnership and treatment, even among members, as pantomime. There is a feeling that these notions are farcical, at best, as they accrue no tangible benefit to member countries that can be singled out as equitable and even fair across the board.
There is, for example, the contention regarding visa programmes, restrictions, and regimes that see some citizens of the bloc being offered or denied access to opportunities across member states on the basis of criteria which some have described as racist. There is the notion that the Commonwealth constitutes Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK, plus the bloc of “insignificant others”. These are issues that a leader like Minister Johnson Smith would be equipped to address; to cause the institution to live up to its founding ideals.
The Commonwealth, which spans Asia, across Africa, and to the Americas, holds great potential for building free or special trade blocs which will benefit many of the developing economies of member states.
Empire, the historical forerunner of the Commonwealth, has always been criticised for its ethos of wealth extraction, deliberate underdevelopment, and consequent impoverishment of most member states. If a modern organisation is to emerge from the shadow of colonial exploitation and economic injustice, the new Commonwealth must develop into a wealth-generating machine which sees to it that all member states, at the very least, collectively achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. We need to see an organisation in which the majority of its states have much more than persistent poverty in common.
With Kamina Johnson Smith’s vision for a just and prosperous world, coupled with her reach and access to great minds and movers of the global political and economic agenda as a diplomat and alliance builder, she will transform the Commonwealth into a sphere of shared economic prosperity.
Kamina can. She deserves our support and we are grateful for the support that has already been pouring in from many member states. Kamina in the Commonwealth will infuse new relevance into this globally connected bloc that we can all be proud of, and benefit from.
Alando N Terrelonge is an attorney-at-law, Member of Parliament, minister of state in the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sport.
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