I was taken aback by Senator Kamina Johnson Smith’s response to a comment made by Commonwealth Secretary General Baroness Patricia Scotland of Dominica, who sugested she reconsider her challenge for the position and withdraw. Senator Johnson Smith said, “That won’t be happening ...that will not happen. That will never happen.”
I have not seen such fire and confidence in Johnson Smith since the challenge was announced. This could be good, it could also backfire if critical relationships are damaged.
It seems like Johnson Smith is way above her head because she should have taken the high road, used diplomacy, and not respond, considering the rift in Caricom on the matter.
It appears as if Jamaica was pushed into the race at the last minute by big funders of the secretariat who are at odds with Scotland’s leadership and their apparent inability to manipulate her to push a more conservative agenda and policies.
Baroness Scotland is an experienced and well-connected barrister, diplomat, and politician who was born in Dominica and lived and worked in the UK. She has denied allegations of mismanagement and the award of improper contracts and questionable spending. I am sure the secretariat has sufficient controls and audit procedures to deal with any type of allegation.
Since announcing her candidacy, Johnson Smith has been busy touring the Commonwealth, most recently Africa, where she campaigned, networked, and presented her portfolio and platform. Scotland’s campaign, on the other hand, has been relatively quiet and behind the scenes, using diplomatic channels.
In 2021, Caricom took the unified position to support Scotland’s completion of a second term as Secretary General, although it is known that some members were opposed to this move. Antigua and Barbuda’s prime minister and former Caricom chair, Gaston Browne, described Jamaica’s surprise bid as a “monumental error”. Jamaica’s bid has created a rift in Caricom and there is tension.
The vote for Secretary General will take place in Kigali, Rwanda, at the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting from June 20-26, 2022, chaired by none other than Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, who visited Jamaica recently.
Some found the timing of his official visit to Jamaica rather suspect. The royal visit to Jamaica, which preceded the announcement of Jamaica’s bid, is also suspect. Was the UK behind Jamaica’s decision to challenge Scotland? It seems odd that Jamaica will be “moving on” to become a republic, yet suddenly wants to unseat the incumbent within the Commonwealth of Nations comprising mostly former British colonies.
If Jamaica wins, the country cannot expect kickbacks, but our image will be boosted internationally.
Prime Minister Holness cannot expect to use Senator Johnson Smith to pull strings if she is elected, but for sure there will be connections. The current chair-in-office for the Commonwealth of Nations is UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson is the leader of the Conservative Party in the UK. Scotland, on the other hand, is aligned with the leftist Labour Party.
Since the announcement of Johnson Smith’s candidacy, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has been pushing her to the max, using every means necessary. He referenced “her high moral character, dipomatic and political acumen, proven competence, and commitment to the work of the Commonwealth”. He also spoke of Johnson Smith’s wealth of experience and commitment to international public service.
Johnson Smith has been minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade since 2016. There have been controversies under her leadership, the most recent being when Jamaican students were stranded in Ukraine and they were offered loans to escape a dire life-and-death situation with war looming. It was public outcry that seemed to have pushed the minister into doing what should have been done from the start — use diplomatic channels to provide urgent assistance to help the students expedite their exit.
The Commonwealth of Nations is headed by The Queen. It is a voluntary organisation with 54 members, mostly former colonies of the British empire. It aims to foster partnerships and cooperation for the advancement of economic, social, democratic, and human rights policies.
Jamaica, like any member country of an organisation has the right to oppose, voice opinions, and even challenge, but it also an independent sovereign State and should not allow itself to be pushed around or manipulated to advance another country’s agenda. We should be moving away from any form of colonialism, not courting it.
Either way, Jamaica has found itself in a mess. Johnson Smith must win, if not, it could be embarassing. How will Jamaica face its Caricom partners, especially if most members in the region had voted against her? Johnson Smith has picked up some endorsements in the Commonwealth, but alas, there are 54 members voting, it could go either way.