Commonwealth’s rich nations take heat for failing to help small states

Saturday June 25 2022

Heads of state and government at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Rwanda. PHOTO | CHOGM


Rich and influential Commonwealth countries — including the UK, Canada and Australia — have been put on the spot for failing to help low-income and small member states in their hour of need at the height of the global pandemic.

They also happen to be members of the elite G7 or G20 in the case of Australia, while on the other end of the spectrum, the Commonwealth has 13 Least Developed Countries and 32 small states.

The Commonwealth is supposed to be an important “collective voice” and a vehicle to potentially provide leverage for global positions but influential and rich members remain lukewarm and pursue national interests, to the detriment of the majority of Club members who happen to be developing countries.

Read: Is Commonwealth membership still relevant to countries today?

Voiceless members

“There is undoubtedly value in a Commonwealth advocacy and consensus-building role. The global stage is a crowded one and voice and influence are at a premium. It is crucial though that Commonwealth voice and advocacy add real value: It must be able to recognise and respond to the differences among members and be used assertively on behalf of the majority of voiceless Commonwealth members in fora such as the Bretton-Woods institutions, the G20 and the G7,” said Ransford Smith, former deputy secretary-general of the Commonwealth.


Ahead of his arrival for the summit in Kigali on Tuesday, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau tweeted, pledging to “work with leaders at the meeting to address the shared crises that many countries are facing like the impact of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and Climate Change, and the rising cost of living.”

But at the Commonwealth Business Forum on the same day whose theme was A Global Reset: Leveraging the Commonwealth for a Global Recovery, a panel of experts pointed out the lack of solidarity in tackling global issues facing the developing world.

There is the need to address the underlying inequality that exists between Commonwealth members as rich countries continue to trade with each other and have done little to support developing countries still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

The conversation on inequality in the Commonwealth was started by President Paul Kagame, the incoming chair of the bloc, who challenged leaders to tackle inequality in his speech.

“We need to keep making sure that when we talk about the Commonwealth, we actually mean the Commonwealth. Not just that being ‘common’ to a few of the many 54 countries.

“This is why I said, it keeps being a work in progress. We keep having to engage one another, finding out what we can do to bring that balance to the extent that everyone in the Commonwealth, the family of nations, feels they are part of it, no one is left behind…” said the president, calling for more efforts to ensure that small, developing nations within the Commonwealth are not left behind.”

A panel raised concerns about the lack of solidarity despite the shared crises.

And, as the coronavirus pandemic recedes, there is concern over a global rise of fuel prices, the cost of living, and food insecurity partly linked to the war in Ukraine. This is in addition to existing challenges of climate change and debt sustainability in the developing world.

Donald Kaberuka, the managing partner, SouthBridge, and a former president of the African Development Bank said the current response to the crises by the international community including within the Commonwealth has been “insufficient” as the global South remains sidelined, citing limited access to Covid-19 vaccines in the developing world.

“We should begin to consider the crisis we are living through as the new normal. There are many more crises to come... and each time the response has been unequal between the global North and South. I’m not blaming the global North, I’m only saying what happened…” Mr Kaberuka said, referencing the support Ukraine has received including the recent $9 billion financial package by the EU, with favourable payment terms of a 10-year grace period, and repayment period of 25 years.