As the 54 Commonwealth members celebrate the 2013 Commonwealth Day on Monday, the British Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Peter Carter, has described the family as a unique organisation whose relevance remains even after many years of the dismantling of colonial rules.
The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of mainly but not restricted to former British colonies. Member countries come from six regions including Africa.
Currently African countries constitute the single largest group (19 members) in the association that was set up in the 1870s and reconstituted in 1949.
But over the years with many of the countries gaining independence, the continued relevance of the Commonwealth has come under great scrutiny by analysts who believe the association has lost its relevance mainly because of the shift in British foreign policy and changing global environment.
The Commonwealth certainly has not lost its relevance. I will say it is more relevant than ever. Over the years it has contributed enormously to the development of good governance in member states. Democracy (is deeper) in the Commonwealth than ever before. We have a wealth of experience in a very diverse organisation that we can share with each other. We continue to contribute to security and peace throughout the world,” the British diplomat said.
Commonwealth Day is celebrated on the second Monday of March each year. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Opportunity through Enterprise.”
In the words of the organisation’s secretary-general, Kamalesh Sharma, posted on its website, the theme ”encourages us all to celebrate the ways in which talents and innovation can be supported and put to the best use possible”.
Several activities including lectures, seminars, cultural performances, film shows, drama and symposiums, have been planned for the day.
In Nigeria, the Minister of Education, Professor Ruqayyat Rufai, will address a press conference in the capital city of Abuja on the celebration of the day.
At the headquarters of the Commonwealth in London, a multi-faith service will be organised with the head of the Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth II, top functionaries and High Commissioners of member countries expected at the occasion.
Members countries enjoy some benefits like the Commonwealth scholarships, fellowships, technical assistance and also advantages through other numerous professional associations.
Some analysts argue that because of the shift in British foreign policy, which now gives priority to Europe against the Commonwealth, many other important benefits like relaxed consular matters, hitherto enjoyed by members, have been removed.
But Carter dismissed such arguments, stressing that the Commonwealth remains as important to British foreign policy as the European Union.
”I think that is a misunderstanding of our foreign policy. Clearly, our relationship with Europe is important to us, it is where we do 50% of our trade, as a member of the EU…But we have a global foreign policy, we are not just an European power, we are a country with global interest, with global influence and global concern.”
“The Commonwealth is an important component of our ability to project our foreign policy to be a global player and to cooperate with a very diverse group of countries, which is actually unique in the world. There is no other organisation like the commonwealth in the world,” Mr. Carter added.
The Commonwealth is home to about two billion citizens of all faiths and ethnic groups including some of the world’s largest, smallest as well as poorest countries.
Apart from Africa, member countries come from Asia (8), the Americas (3), the Caribbean (10), Europe (3) and the South Pacific (11).