Chris Koney column: Discussing the Commonwealth and its relevance to members states
On Monday 17th July 2017, I joined a gathering of a selected group of young people in their early adulthood at the residence of the British High Commissioner for a TEDx Accra talk entitled Africa’s Young Commonwealth.
The event, was hosted in honour of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the United Kingdom’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict and Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the United Nations, who was on a working tour of Ghana.
Appointed on 13 June 2017, Lord Ahmad had a successful career in banking and finance with a 20-year experience working in the City of London prior to his appointment. He worked at the NatWest Group as a senior manager in corporate banking and financial markets before moving on to become the Vice-President and Marketing Director of Alliance Bernstein. His last role before joining the government was as a Strategy and Marketing Director at Sucden Financial.
Addressing the audience during the event, the married government appointee with three children was emphatic about the opportunities the Commonwealth presents to the Ghanaian youth in recent times and in the past. Lord Ahmad challenged the Ghanaian youth and those in all member countries to strive to capitalize on the numerous untapped prospects available to member states of the Commonwealth to make a meaningful contribution to their lives to translate into the development of their various economies.
As the Minister for the Commonwealth and the United Nations, Lord Ahmad is responsible for all Foreign & Commonwealth Office Business in the House of Lords, the Commonwealth as an institution, the Caribbean and national security: counter terrorism, countering violent extremism and cyber.
His other tasks are peacekeeping, overseas territories (excluding Falklands, Sovereign Base Areas and Gibraltar), conflict and International Criminal Court as well as human rights and modern slavery.
The day after the event, I was privileged to have a one-one-one interaction with the British Minister as he engaged with several high-profile personalities from the Ghanaian government and members of the diplomatic corps just before he flew back to the United Kingdom. Our conversation centered on what the Commonwealth means to the United Kingdom and other members beyond just being an international association consisting of the United Kingdom together with states that were previously part of the British Empire and their dependencies.
“To talk about the place of the Commonwealth in recent times, I will like to state that all 52 members of the Commonwealth have a common history which they can all identify with. We are bound together by common history and the systems. And in Ghana, just like all other member states, one can ask the legitimate question of how relevant the Commonwealth is to them at this point and also in the past.
I will want to say we haven’t used the opportunities the Commonwealth presents in ways we could have over the years. And that is one area I have particularly spoken about here in Ghana. The fact that we haven’t done it doesn’t mean it cannot be done or should not be done going forward and that is my strong believe,” Lord Ahmad said.
The former UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport further stated the direction of the Commonwealth under his leadership.
“We are an organization of 52 countries and I think it is important to start looking at ways of building the structures to encourage partnerships and effective cooperation amongst member countries. In my discussion with President Akuffo Addo, I shared with him some of our early thoughts of the common themes for the Commonwealth Summit to be held in April 2018 in the United Kingdom.
These include the important issues of prosperity, trade, sustainability, fairness, security, challenges with climate change and protecting the environment. These are areas that will require a level of collaboration within and beyond. But more importantly, the renewal of the relevance of the Commonwealth to Ghana, the United Kingdom and all other member states. What it means to them today and what is should mean to them tomorrow,” he added.
Commenting on how to achieve the targets of the Commonwealth, Lord Ahmad highlighted the healthy trade relationship between Ghana and the United Kingdom which he indicated is the United Kingdom’s fourth largest across sub-Saharan Africa with a value of over a billion pounds.
Is it possible to grow this through the imports and exports? Yes, it is very possible and that has to be done through a calculated attempt and it can be done easily using the common tool being the Commonwealth.
“The Commonwealth is a very powerful institution and member states ought to capitalize on this. How can we get all 52 countries to come together to find ways of collaborating on all fronts? When we look at the opportunities of trade, how can we get all member states with different qualities and commodities to commit to trading amongst themselves.
There is also an avenue to finding solutions to major issues encountered by member states within the Commonwealth through deliberations and partnerships. This opens a window of opportunity for deeper collaboration amongst member countries going forward and a platform to identify mechanisms and common projects of mutual benefits.”
On whether the United Kingdom is going to shift its focus and place more emphasis on the Commonwealth during and post Brexit, Lord Ahmed chronicled the important role of the European Union and categorically stated that the United Kingdom will continue to liaise and work closely with the European Union during and post Brexit era.
“Europe is and has always been important to us and we will continue to work with our European colleagues at all times during Brexit and post Brexit. We will keep working with Europe as we strengthen the Commonwealth and build on its prospects for all members,” Lord Ahmad ended.