The Commonwealth Association’s annual general meeting brought academics, journalists, high commissioners and officials together to reflect on the outcomes of the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and set priorities for the forthcoming 2020 meeting.
The Association is the staff’s alumni organisation. The meeting, entitled CHOGM: Looking back and looking forward, was held on 10 July at the Commonwealth headquarters.
Participants in the roundtable discussion included journalist John Elliott, author and historian Victoria Schofield, 2018 CHOGM conference secretary Katalaina Sapolu and the High Commissioner of Barbados, Guy Hewitt.
Discussants critically analysed the high-profile meeting from the point-of-view of government leaders. They explored the ability of heads to build relationships, make partnerships and empower youth through the course of CHOGM and the forums that preceded it.
John Elliott thought that the outcomes of the forums were not well integrated into the agenda of the heads’ meeting, saying, “The LGBT rights [discussed at forums] did not feed into the heads’ meeting. [PM] Theresa May, in her opening remarks at the joint-forums, said how she wanted same-sex relations to be tackled - but nothing happened afterwards and neither was media freedom tackled [in the Commonwealth].”
Key issues raised included the limited time allotted to heads’ meetings and how to monitor the commitments that leaders made at CHOGM after leaders returned to their countries.
Guy Hewitt dubbed the agreement that the Prince of Wales will succeed the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth as a “symbolic outcome” of the 2018 CHOGM, commenting, “One of the biggest existential threats to the Commonwealth was the position of Head of the Commonwealth to pass without there being a successor.”
“This [announcement of the successor], in my estimation, is the easiest and the most consistent way of going forward. It was important for all of us to achieve during this CHOGM,” he added.
The discussion then focused on 2020 CHOGM which will be held in Rwanda. Victoria Schofield commented on programme delivery between now and 2020, saying, “I consider it [2020 CHOGM] a double sort of entry in the diary because it is not just Rwanda. It is about what takes place in the two years prior to Rwanda. The UK [as the Chair-in-Office] does have a big responsibility because Rwanda is a challenge as it is slightly unknown and it is not like going back to a place where the summit has already been held.”
Briefing the attendees about the first official planning mission to Rwanda for the 2020 CHGOM, Katalaina Sapolu, director of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Governance and Peace Directorate, said, “We were very encouraged by the infrastructure in Rwanda. The policy direction for the meeting will follow continuity for its mandate. The 2018 CHOGM was about working towards a common future and this trend will continue into the next CHOGM.”
Speakers agreed on a set of priority areas for heads to consider during 2020 CHOGM. It included security, development challenges, climate change and the commitment to uphold the Commonwealth Charter.