Caricom Commonwealth candidates

It was pure coincidence last week that just as one Caribbean candidate was elected to the post of Secretary-General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group for 2015-2020, another Caribbean candidate was withdrawing from the race to be the next Secretary-General of the Commonwealth for 2016-2021. Success for the region in one forum now looks likely to be counterbalanced by failure in the other.

In the first instance, Guyana’s Ambassador to the European Union, Dr PI Gomes beat a Jamaican and a Trinidadian in a competition already safeguarded, according to the principle of rotation, for the Cariforum group (Caricom plus the Dominican Republic) – a significant personal achievement for Ambassador Gomes and a feather in the cap for Foreign Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett and her ministry, given that Guyana had not secured a comparable, high-level international appointment since Rudy Insanally’s election to the presidency of the UN General Assembly in 1993.

In the second case, Guyanese-born Sir Ronald Sanders, a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda for over 30 years, currently serving his third term as that country’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, withdrew from the contest within Caricom to be the consensus regional candidate for the Commonwealth post, following the inability of Caricom Heads of Government to reach agreement in the margins of the Cuba-Caricom Summit in Havana, on December 8.

In his letter of withdrawal, High Commissioner Sanders professed to be “deeply anguished that, despite majority support… the region has not been able to settle on one candidate.” He therefore decided not “to be part of a fragmented process in the Commonwealth Caribbean at a time when our need for unity is so urgent in our own interest.” It is an admirable stance but his frustration is palpable.

The Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister and current chairman of Caricom, Gaston Browne, in communicating Sir Ronald’s decision to his colleague heads, described it as a “principled position” with which he agreed, stressing that “the region has delayed too long on this matter, and further delay is inimical to a regional candidate’s chances.” It is hard not to concur.

To date, in the absence of any official statement by any other Caricom leader or Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque, it is difficult to discern why the heads have postponed taking a decision, most likely until February 2015, when they will next assemble at their statutory Inter-Sessional Meeting. But the region has become accustomed to such prevarication and procrastination by its leaders.

The other Caricom candidates are Trinidad and Tobago Planning Minister Dr Bhoe Tewarie and Baroness Patricia Scotland of Asthal (in the county of Oxfordshire, UK), a former Minister of State in Tony Blair’s government, Attorney General under Gordon Brown, and a sitting member of the British House of Lords. She has been proposed by the Government of Dominica.

Recent articles by noted commentators on Caribbean affairs, Rickey Singh and David Jessop, as well as by Kayode Soyinka, editor of Africa Today, all suggested that Mr Sanders was the best qualified candidate for the position, given his vast diplomatic experience and proven knowledge of the Commonwealth. His weekly columns, moreover, reveal him to be an insightful analyst of regional, Commonwealth and international affairs.

On the other hand, Dr Tewarie is not known to have any relevant experience of the Commonwealth. Furthermore, Trinidad and Tobago citizens already hold the positions of Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General and Director of the Commonwealth Foundation and it is highly unlikely that the rest of the Commonwealth would gift the top post to yet another Trinidadian.

As for Baroness Scotland, flying the Dominica flag of convenience, her candidacy defies logic and all notions of post-colonial independence. She was born in Dominica, from where her family emigrated when she was two. She may well be proud of her Caribbean heritage but she is British in all else and has the look of being a Trojan horse candidate for the UK. Caricom would surely be the laughing stock of the Commonwealth, were she to be the region’s candidate.

By the time of the election in late 2015, it will have been 25 years since a Caricom national was Commonwealth Secretary-General. There is, however, no set policy of rotation among regions as in the ACP. In other words, there is no automaticity in the post going to a Caribbean national. But, at a time when the Commonwealth is in need of assertive leadership and revitalisation, a strong regional candidate, with the unambiguous endorsement of Caricom Heads, would certainly have an excellent chance of success. That, unfortunately, does not now seem to be a possibility. The Commonwealth may well be in danger of falling into irrelevance but so is Caricom.

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