Still searching for consensus on the Commonwealth

As we reported last week, Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge has said that Guyana is still hoping that Caricom will reach a consensus on a single candidate for the position of Commonwealth Secretary-General, to be decided, in November, at the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, in Malta.

For a variety of reasons, not all of them easily comprehensible, there are still three regional candidates standing, after some 18 months of lobbying by their respective governments, collective sidestepping of the issue and disagreement, not to say bickering, on the part of members of the Caricom Conference of Heads of Government.

The three are: Guyana-born Sir Ronald Sanders, nominated by Antigua and Barbuda, of which he has been a citizen for over 30 years, and who has been reported as enjoying the support of nine Commonwealth Caribbean states; British Baroness Patricia Scotland, put forward by Dominica, the country of her birth; and Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie, Minister of Planning of Trinidad and Tobago.

It is generally accepted, based on the principle of geographic rotation, that it is the turn of the Caribbean to occupy the top post in the Commonwealth. It would appear, though, given the region’s lack of coherence and unity on the matter, that Botswana, which has proposed Mrs Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba, feels it has a realistic chance of stealing a march on the region in the forthcoming election.

Now, whilst there is a view in some quarters that Caricom is obliged by Commonwealth procedure to put forward a regional candidate, this is erroneous. Nominations for Commonwealth Secretary General can only be made by member governments. Mrs Masire-Mwamba is, in this respect, the nominee of the government of Botswana and not of African Commonwealth members as a group, although she reportedly has the endorsement of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).

Haiti, Montserrat and Suriname, moreover, whilst full members of Caricom, are not members of the Commonwealth. In this context, Caricom cannot, strictly speaking, decide on a regional candidate for the Commonwealth job. Nonetheless, if the Commonwealth Caribbean could speak with one voice in support of a single candidate, this would, obviously, carry a great deal of weight in the other regions of the Commonwealth in the campaign to have that candidate elected.

Mr Greenidge is therefore right to be concerned about the lack of a regional consensus jeopardising the Commonwealth Caribbean’s chances of securing the prestigious and influential post. For, apart from placing the Caribbean at the forefront of Commonwealth affairs, with a high-level interlocutor for the region in the broader global arena, there is a specific strategic interest for Guyana, which would benefit from having a Commonwealth Secretary-General favourably disposed to playing a strongly supportive role with regard to the threat to our sovereignty, territorial integrity and development, posed by our western neighbour.

We imagine that Mr Greenidge, President David Granger and the entire Cabinet are already well aware of this, based on the activist foreign policy that the new government has been obliged to pursue in relation to Venezuela, almost from day one. What we do not know, however, is how the Government of Guyana views each of the three candidates from the region and whom it would prefer. Presumably, the choice would be influenced by an appraisal of the candidates’ professional and diplomatic experience, in-depth knowledge of the Commonwealth and understanding of the long-standing and recently reinvigorated existential threat to Guyana.

Hopefully, Mr Greenidge is working on convincing his Commonwealth Caribbean colleagues that, in spite of the damage done to the region’s chances of securing the post, the opportunity to agree on a consensus candidate has not been entirely lost and that the best candidate should have the unequivocal support of the region. The countdown to Malta began a while ago but it is not yet too late for the Caribbean. If, however, narrow insularity prevails, the Botswana candidate may well squeeze in, not because she is a particularly strong candidate but simply because the Caribbean is divided when there should be active, unambiguous, collective campaigning on behalf of a single candidate, in the best interests of the region.

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