As an accredited Commonwealth organisation, the CLA were afforded one delegate pass for one session of the foreign Ministers pre CHOGM meeting. I was pleased to attend.
The Foreign Ministers were treated to initial presentations from the Director General of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and then the deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Ms Amina J. Mohammed. It was a privilege to listen to these two world leaders.
The Secretary General of the Commonwealth Secretariat spoke and then various Foreign Ministers or their Ministers made contributions. They were all time limited and there was a wide variety of contributions from as far away as Tuvalu to Canada, and South Africa to Jamaica.
One interesting aspect was the robust, fairly stringent comments made by the Honourable Melanie Joly the Foreign Minister of Canada in relation to the war in Ukraine. She roundly condemned the unnecessary war and immense suffering and loss. A short time later, Naledi Pandor the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of South Africa contributed and she said that it was time to end Africa’s dependency on others for food. Africa had arable ground, many skilled workers and should be able to produce its own grain without having to import from Ukraine. She also observed that it was not appropriate to be patronising about countries who were exercising their own sovereignty – I felt a clear reference to the criticism from Canada of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine.
Friday was the opening ceremony. Although no email providing an indication that we could attend was received, I arrived before 9am and received an overpass easily and set down in a plum seat right in front of the centre of the main stage and watched proceedings. I saw the wife of the Prime Minister of the UK, Carrie Johnston, arrive with other First Ladies. Then the Duchess of Cornwall arrived, and the Sultan of Oman appeared.
An announcer then introduced each member of the Heads of Government team onto the stage. Some of them were High Commissioners or Ministers of State, then there were some Foreign Ministers and there were some Presidents and Prime Ministers. One of the people in the front row was the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau. There was something of a delay before Boris Johnston arrived onto the stage and took his place, followed by President Kagame, then the Secretary General and finally His Royal Highness Prince Charles.
After President Kagame, Boris Johnston and Baroness Scotland had spoken, the Prince of Wales made an excellent speech containing two memorable points. The first relating to slavery and how he was personally affronted by what was his increasing knowledge of history in this regard. The second was that each country was able to make their own constitutional arrangements, clearly signalling that the Queen did not have to be the Head of Government in the Commonwealth. He referenced how the Commonwealth was important from the point of view of shared values and he noted that countries which have never been under British rule, such as Rwanda and Mozambique, saw the benefit of being in the Commonwealth.
The speeches were punctuated by dancing by the Rwanda Ballet, singing by a choir and it was all very colourful with the Commonwealth flags in the background ; it was interesting to watch the people.
After the opening ceremony there was the Secretary General reception, and it was excellent to meet with among others Ms Amina Mohammad the deputy Secretary General of United Nations and with the President and Prime Minister of Sierra Leone and the Foreign Minister of Canada and Justin Trudeau himself. I also met briefly with Ms Liz Truss, the UK Foreign Secretary. This was a good opportunity to get some photographs and to mention the CLA and some of its core interests.
Saturday saw the accredited organisations meet at the Foreign Ministers round table. This proved to be excellent as having arrived early, I was positioned at a good table and was joined by the Foreign Minister of Sierra Leone and Lord Ahmed the Minister of State in the Foreign Office to the UN and the Commonwealth. The Foreign Minister of the Bahamas recalled our CLA Conference in Nassau and passed on his good wishes to CLA Vice President Peter Maynard.
Anne Gallagher the Director General of the Commonwealth Foundation chaired (excellently) and in the first session, accredited organisations raised access to Justice, tolerance for the LGBT community and I spoke on Freedom of Expression, the two events on IT and Access to Justice in which the CLA partnered with the Commonwealth Secretariat. I encouraged that the Latimer House principles be rolled out and that the Media principles be adopted. Commonwealth human rights and freedom of expression discussed. (commonwealthroundtable.co.uk)
A video made from interviews at the People’s Forum was shown to the Foreign Ministers in which I was surprised to find myself featured on four occasions and therefore attracted some further publicity for the CLA. After a break, subsequent sessions featured other organisations and the work of the Commonwealth of Learning and the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Foundation. Watch the recording here
Lunch provided an opportunity to say goodbye to colleagues with a promise to maintain the excellent contacts made.
In the afternoon I went to the Rwanda Genocide Museum which was a harrowing experience and put many things into perspective. In three months a comprehensive and planned slaughter took place. How Rwanda has been transformed since then.
On the final day of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2022 (CHOGM 2022), leaders of the Commonwealth agreed a Statement under the theme of ‘Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming’.
The Statement underscores the importance of connecting, innovating, and transforming in order to facilitate a full recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, achieve the 2030 Agenda, and to respond to conflicts and crises in ways that increase resilience and progress in delivering a common future, underpinned by sustainability, peace and prosperity, to improve the lives of all the people of the Commonwealth.
Read the Leaders Statement issued here