The Commonwealth Secretary General spoke with Luke Anami via e-mail on the association’s role in handling the current and post-Covid-19 situation
What is the Commonwealth’s reaction to the unprecedented combination of crises of Covid-19, climate change, global economic recession, food insecurity and natural disasters?
We brought together our 54 countries to share knowledge, best practice and real solutions to the pandemic, through ministerial meetings and joint statements on Covid-19. Also, on a much more granular practical level through programmes like our Coronavirus Response Centre and Tracker and our price-sharing database for the procurement of medical supplies.
We have also been working on a new online Disaster Risk Finance Portal which, when launched, will help countries access the funds they need when they are hit by these events. Our existing Meridian Debt Management software helps members manage finances better.
African economies have been hit hard by the pandemic. What is the biggest challenge to rebuilding after Covid-19 and what assistance can the Commonwealth offer?
The broader economic impact of Covid-19 could push up to 40 million people in sub-Saharan Africa into extreme poverty and millions into unemployment.
This would wipe away gains of the past couple of decades and put at risk achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The World Trade Organisation estimates a 13 per cent to 32 per cent drop in world trade this year. This will hit African countries particularly as 80 per cent of their trade is in goods.
The pandemic has delayed implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area, and if countries reliant on regional and continental partners, are to weather this storm, they need to act now to protect their economies until activities achieve normalcy.
They need to ensure that the private sector, and small and medium-size enterprises, are prepared and ready to trade when the impact of the pandemic lessens and the AfCFTA agreement comes on line. Trade within Africa can provide an important stimulus to support economic recovery.
The Commonwealth Secretariat is ready to assist in supporting policy frameworks for recovery. This includes strategies to diversify exports, create jobs, promote digital transformation and build back green and blue economies with sustainability at their core.
Kenya already leads the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on the sustainable blue economy, which aims to develop an integrated approach to the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and ocean health.
Kenya is also involved in the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda on Digital Connectivity, Regulatory Connectivity and Physical Connectivity. This digitisation offers tremendous opportunity for growth in services and to support economic recovery post-Covid.
Covid-19 has seen a rise in violence against women. What plans are in place to fight rising domestic violence?
We are working through pioneering research to quantify the direct and indirect cost of violence against women and girls. Truth is if you can put a monetary value to the cost of violence against women and girls it is easier to make the case to policymakers that it is in their interest to act.
Our project showed that overall costs to the economy of one study country was about 4.6 per cent of GDP in 2016.
We are also working with other groups such as the No More Foundation to tackle domestic violence by compiling the relevant data, helping government agencies and grassroots organisations develop projects, and educating bystanders.
The Black Lives Matter movement has seen countries such as Belgium apologise for their past deeds in the DR Congo. Is the Commonwealth ready to acknowledge such past?
The Commonwealth has never shied away from the issues of racism and inequality. Commonwealth leaders have historically been at the forefront with their commitment to work jointly for the eradication of all forms of racism and racial prejudice.
It is true our Commonwealth story is one of a family at times scarred by old hurts, resentments, and of a relationship sometimes strained and afflicted by fissures such as racism. But our history also shows that, standing on the strong foundation of our friendship, shared values, common aspirations, and spirit of collaboration, we have always been brave enough to look evil straight in the eye and call it for what it is. And when leaders met recently they united in condemnation of all forms of discrimination, including racism.
The modern Commonwealth is not blind to our history but it must also not be bound by it. Today we are a free and voluntary association of 54 independent and sovereign countries. We are small and large, from five different regions representing one-third of humanity, of all races, cultures, creeds, and economic positions, bound by the same language, the same common law, parliamentary and institutional framework, and values. And their 54 leaders can sit together as equals, making decisions on some of the worlds’ greatest challenges.
How relevant is the Commonwealth in the changing world order?
In such times, when the world seems in a state of flux and many things are uncertain, it is more important than ever that the Commonwealth remains an example of international co-operation, friendship and multilateral action.
And be it on trade, climate change, countering violent extremism, promoting democratic elections, or strengthening public governance institutions, the Commonwealth is making a real difference in the world and for our member states through our advocacy, diplomacy and assistance programmes.
At a time multilateralism is under threat, the Commonwealth offers real hope, advocating for a transparent, inclusive, fair, and open rules-based multilateral trading system, which takes into account the special requirements of least developed countries and small and vulnerable economies.
And while the Commonwealth is not a formal trading bloc, trade among its members is significant — worth at least $700 billion in 2019.
Through the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda, member countries are seeking to boost trade and investment within the Commonwealth to $2 trillion by 2030.
What role is the Commonwealth likely to play in trade matters?
Member countries can look to harness the ‘Commonwealth Advantage’ to boost their trade, especially to help with the post-Covid-19 recovery. The ‘Commonwealth Advantage’ enables member countries to trade up to 20 per cent more with each other than other non-Commonwealth countries, at a 21 per cent lower cost, on average. Members also invest up to 27 per cent more within the Commonwealth than outside of it — almost triple the estimates from five years ago. This investment effect is particularly strong in Africa.