Commonwealth still relevant, says Johnson Smith
KIGALI, Rwanda — Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith (right) spends a moment with Jamaica’s representative to the Commonwealth Youth Forum Toshanna Wignal at Intare Conference Arena in Kigali, Rwanda, on Tuesday.

KIGALI, Rwanda — With several Jamaicans questioning the significance of the Commonwealth group of states and the wisdom of Jamaica spending a yet undisclosed sum — believed to be millions of dollars — in a campaign to lead its secretariat, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith has defended the importance of the body.

Responding to questions from Jamaican journalists in Kigali on Tuesday, Johnson Smith, who has been nominated by Kingston for the post of secretary general, said Jamaica benefits tremendously from the Commonwealth.

“We benefit in trade capacity building, we benefit in electoral reform and electoral observers. The Commonwealth does great work in terms of institutional building and building of stability which helps countries develop.

“These are things that Jamaica thinks are important as we ascribe to, and share the values of the Commonwealth, and that is why we think that leading the secretariat, therefore harnessing its potential, will ultimately redound, not only to Jamaica’s benefit, but to the whole 54 and counting nations,” declared Johnson Smith.

With Heads of Government set to meet on Friday, to first seek consensus on who should lead the Commonwealth Secretariat for the next two years, or to vote to elect a secretary general, Johnson Smith declared that she remains confident she will emerge victorious in a contest that should include the incumbent Baroness Patricia Scotland and Tuvalu’s former Governor General Sir Iakoba Taeia Italeli.

“I feel good so far. We are on the ground [and] the sands have not shifted as far as we are aware, so we are continuing to engage [and] we are continuing to do the work. We are not taking anything for granted and, of course, the best part of this is meeting even more people from across the Commonwealth speaking about the great things that can be done if we work together,” added Johnson Smith.

An effort to get a comment from Scotland on her feelings about the secretary general contest was unsuccessful on Tuesday as she walked away without answering questions from TVJ’s Janella Precius. Scotland had visited the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Youth Forum at Intare Conference Arena in Kigali.

The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 independent and equal countries. It is home to 2.5 billion people, and includes advanced economies and developing countries. Thirty-two of the Commonwealth members are small states, including many island nations.

Commonwealth member governments, through the values and principles expressed in the Commonwealth Charter, have agreed to shared goals including development, democracy, and peace.

The Commonwealth’s roots go back to the British Empire but today any country can join. The last country to join the Commonwealth was Rwanda in 2009.

The grouping includes 19 African states, 13 from the Caribbean, 11 Pacific states, eight Asian states and three from Europe.

Arthur Hall

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