When leaders gather for the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta later this month, they will select a new Secretary-General for the 53-member association. The announcement is expected on Friday 27 November, during the first day of the summit. The sixth Commonwealth Secretary-General will take office on 1 April 2016.
Currently, there are three candidates:
Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba was born in Botswana in 1960. She served two terms as Deputy Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat from 2008-2014 where she was responsible for senior oversight of the political, human rights, legal and youth portfolio of the Secretariat’s work. Mrs Masire-Mwamba was previously CEO at the Botswana Export Development and Investment Authority and Assistant Engineer to the Group Manager, Botswana Telecommunications Corporation. Her academic qualifications include a BSC in Electronics and Physics and an MBA in International Business plus a Bachelor of Laws Degree.
Sir Ronald Sanders
Sir Ronald Sanders was born in Guyana in 1948. He is currently Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the United States and the Organisation of American States. His diplomatic career spanned two previous periods between 1982 to 1987 and 1996 to 2004. He was twice High Commissioner to the United Kingdom for Antigua and Barbuda and Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation. Sir Ronald was a member of the 2010 Eminent Persons Group on Commonwealth reform and was formerly Ambassador to the World Trade Organization. An international business consultant and writer, Sir Ronald holds a MA in International Relations. He was knighted by the Queen in 2002.
Baroness Patricia Scotland
Baroness Patricia Scotland was born in Dominica in 1955, then moved with her family to Britain. She obtained her LLB in 1976, was called to the Bar in 1977 and was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1991. She received a life peerage and was created Baroness Scotland of Asthal in 1997. Baroness Scotland has held the position of Attorney General (2007 to 2010), Minister of State (Home Office) (Crime Reduction) (2007 to 2007), Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management) (2003 to 2007), and Parliamentary Secretary (Lord Chancellor's Department) (2001 to 2003) in government.
Additional candidates may come forward right up until the selection takes place; there is no deadline for nomination. After they have been endorsed by a member country, candidates make themselves known and seek to build a base of support from all regions by laying out a vision for the Commonwealth.
A new Secretary-General is selected at the CHOGM just before the incumbent’s term expires. The closed session is attended only by Heads of Government or their designated representatives; no other officials are present. The process is overseen by the CHOGM Chair, the head of government of the host country.
There is no formal job description for the post. Nor is there a policy specifying that the post of Secretary-General should be rotated regionally, although candidates must be citizens of Commonwealth countries. Only two terms of four years may now be served.
The Commonwealth Secretary-General promotes and protects the Commonwealth’s values and principles, now set out in the Commonwealth Charter. He or she also represents the Commonwealth globally, and manages the Commonwealth Secretariat and its various programmes.
The Secretary-General facilitates pan-Commonwealth consultation and is responsible for convening biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings, Commonwealth Ministerial Meetings and a range of other meetings. The Secretary-General maintains regular high-level contacts with Commonwealth governments as well as with civil society and other leaders. Another important function is to exercise ‘Good Offices’ when the Commonwealth’s fundamental values are threatened or when political tensions arise in member states.
The post of Secretary-General was created together with the Commonwealth Secretariat at the 1965 Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference in London, United Kingdom. Since then there have been five incumbents.
Kamalesh Sharma became Secretary-General on 1 April 2008, after being appointed by heads of government at their meeting in Uganda in November 2007.
Previous Secretaries-General have been Sir Don McKinnon of New Zealand (2000-2008); Chief Emeka Anyaoku of Nigeria (1990-2000); Sir Shridath ‘Sonny’ Ramphal of Guyana (1975-1990); and, Arnold Smith of Canada (1965-1975).