Patricia Scotland retains Commonwealth Secretary-General seat in rare contest

Friday June 24 2022

Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations Patricia Scotland making her address at the opening ceremony on June 24, 2022, during the opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting at Kigali Convention Centre in Kigali, Rwanda. PHOTO | AFP


Baroness Patricia Scotland will remain the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat for the next four years after beating Jamaica’s Foreign Affairs and Trade minister Kamina Johnson.

Ms Scotland won with 27 votes and Ms Johnson got 24, sources told The EastAfrican.

However, the contest has created a rift between members of the Commonwealth in particular Africa, the Caribbean and the wealthier members of the bloc.

In part, the split is due to a highly visible and contentious battle for the post largely created by the current chair of the Commonwealth — Britain — which publicly endorsed Ms Johnson.

The support for Ms Johnson was reportedly criticised by the UK’s opposition Labour shadow foreign minister David Lammy a month ago.

“The chair of the Commonwealth is supposed to maintain neutrality and confidentiality. No chair has ever done this in Commonwealth history. It’s unseemly and divisive,” Mr Lammy said.


On June 24, at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm), there was no consensus, forcing the decision to be made through a vote at a later closed meeting of heads of state.

In her opening remarks at Chogm, Ms Scotland made clear her intentions to hand over in 2024 when her official second term will expire.

“I’m determined that when the role of secretary-general rotates to Africa, two years from now, I will hand on the baton with a stronger and more effective powerful Commonwealth than ever before,” she said.

Reacting to her speech, officials said Ms Scotland attempted to create the impression that the heads of state had already agreed on the outcome.

“The issue of the SG has been divisive and caused considerable irritation across Commonwealth members. Britain has been actively seeking to promote another candidate, but the problem is it is Africa’s turn to have an SG and the Jamaican candidate wouldn’t want to serve for only two years,” a source said. “If they decide to proceed with the Jamaican, they will stop an African secretary general from taking over as everyone has expected. This may sound like an administrative matter but it does affect how the Commonwealth is run and how countries feel about it.”

Voting system

Under the Commonwealth voting system that prioritises consensus, all members must agree on a candidate or one cannot be declared winner. A Commonwealth Secretary-General can serve a maximum of two terms of four years each.

In June 2020, UK communicated that a “significant and diverse number” of heads of government from across the Commonwealth were opposed to the idea of Ms Scotland being automatically reappointed for another four years without facing re-election. The decision was deferred to Chogm this year in Kigali. They agreed to temporarily extend her appointment to June 27, 2022.

Analysts said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s campaign against the incumbent could have been counterproductive for the body that often projects itself as united.

“Even in the few instances in the past when there have been challenges, they have been low key affairs, and striving for compromise and consensus so as not to create division. Collegiality is the currency of the Commonwealth: It debases this at its peril,” a source told The EastAfrican.

On Friday, sources said that some 13 African countries were supporting Ms Scotland with six standing with Ms Johnson.

“The UK is behaving like it is still a colonial master — divide and rule. Some countries are opposed to Scotland but also disagree with the UK’s open campaign against the incumbent,” sources said.

Ms Johnson also has “limited experience in running an international body”, an African delegate told The EastAfrican.

Ms Scotland’s troubles relate to allegations of financial mismanagement of the Secretariat’s resources, which she has constantly denied.

In a letter dated June 16, seen by The EastAfrican, Kevin Isaac, chairman of the Commonwealth Board of Governors — which represents all member states — protested attempts by Ms Scotland to delay the release of an audit report by Ernst and Young to the chair.

“The secretariat’s decision to bar the chair access to the report is an affront to the mandate given to the chair by the board. The chair regrets and challenges the position taken by the secretariat which demonstrates an indifference to the board’s oversight authority,” the letter stated.