KIGALI, Rwanda — “Unless the sand shifts Kamina Johnson Smith will be the Commonwealth secretary general-designate by Saturday,” was the overwhelming view of members of the Jamaican delegation in Kigali, on Thursday, hours before the official opening of the 2022 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) today.
The reference to the sand shifting is ‘diplomatic speech’ in reference to countries which have indicated their support for Johnson Smith changing their decision at the 11th hour.
Commonwealth Heads of Government are scheduled to meet at the Kigali Convention Centre this morning for the official opening of CHOGM 2022 before day-long executive sessions, including one in which they will attempt to reach a consensus on who should be the next secretary general of the group of 54 states.
If there is no consensus, the heads of government will be asked to vote for one of the three candidates — the incumbent Baroness Patricia Scotland, Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Johnson Smith, or Tuvalu’s former Governor General Sir Iakoba Taeia Italeli.
“We are very positive. We are very hopeful and positive. We have run a very positive campaign, we have a very good candidate and we have received support from a lot of countries,” minister with responsibility for information Robert Morgan told the Jamaica Observer in Kigali on Thursday.
“We have had a lot of positive engagements with heads [of Government]. The prime minister [Andrew Holness] has done a large number of bilateral engagements and so too has Minister Johnson Smith, and even where we have come up on heads who may not be supporting her candidature — a small amount as they may be — they have expressed confidence and have expressed admiration for her leadership over the years in the various fora that she has participated in,” he said.
According to Morgan, Jamaica made the decision to nominate Johnson Smith after several states approached the Government and expressed confidence in its foreign minister participating in this process.
“We have seen a manifestation of that significant support over the last number of months,” added Morgan, as he scoffed at claims that Johnson Smith’s candidature was announced too late to allow for a proper campaign.
“Remember that Jamaicans are sprinters, and our women have been exemplars of sprinting, and I suspect that Kamina Johnson Smith has manifested that as well,” Morgan said with a chuckle.
He told the Observer that Jamaica thought “long and hard” about nominating Johnson Smith and the decision was not taken lightly.
“I think we entered at the right time, and based on how things have worked out, the decision by Prime Minister Holness, which was clearly a very strategic decision, has borne out well for the campaign,” declared Morgan.
He admitted that Jamaica would prefer if the Commonwealth leaders could reach a consensus and select Johnson Smith to lead the secretariat, but added that the Government is confident that a plurality of the heads of State will back Johnson Smith.
Morgan also scoffed at claims that an election for the secretary general could leave the next head of the Commonwealth Secretariat leading a body that is split.
“Kamina Johnson Smith has been a bridge in her work as foreign minister. She has done a lot of work at the WTO [World Trade Organization] bringing countries together in some very challenging issues. She has worked at the ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States), and then there is her work in Caricom (Caribbean Community) where she has sorted out some really challenging issues.
“In any democratic process you are always going to have somebody who is successful and somebody who is not successful, and I think credit will have to be given to the Commonwealth, which has been around for many decades, in keeping itself whole,” added Morgan.
He noted that the Commonwealth is a group of countries with different ethnicities, and different economic abilities, but with shared values.
“ I think it is credit to the Commonwealth that we have been able to have this process which Mrs Johnson Smith is involved in and it has not resulted in a negative outcome for the Commonwealth. We believe that at the end of the process the Commonwealth will be a stronger organisation and the leadership of Kamina Johnson Smith will be to the benefit of all member states,” said Morgan.
In the meantime Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett, who is in Kigali participating in a number of tourism-related activities on the margins of CHOGM, told the Observer on Thursday that, based on what he has seen on the ground, he is very confident his Cabinet colleague, Johnson Smith, will be given the nod.
“I think that Jamaica has the numbers and we are satisfied that we will be successful. The reference that people are making to our candidate is that she is sophisticated, and I think that is a very strong position for a candidate,” he said.
“We are very hopeful [and] we are very confident that we will take the bacon,” declared Bartlett.