A failure of foreign policy coordination

Wednesday’s editorial (The choice of Commonwealth Secretary-General) provided a rather good explanation and some useful insights into the machinations behind the campaign for the top job in the Commonwealth and the eventual election of Dominica’s nominee, Baroness Patricia Scotland of Asthal (a village in the county of Oxfordshire in the United Kingdom), at the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta. The Baroness was reportedly elected with the strong support of the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific island states, which are very much within the sphere of influence of the three dominant ex-colonial and neo-colonial powers.

Reliable sources have since indicated that, in the first round of voting, Mrs Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba of Botswana secured 24 votes, as the 18 Commonwealth African states held firm behind their candidate, with the rest of support coming mainly from the Asian members; Baroness Scotland received 16 votes, most likely from Dominica, Barbados and the aforementioned backers; and, Guyana-born Sir Ronald Sanders, the candidate of Antigua and Barbuda, got 13 votes, mostly, from the rest of the Caribbean. As the third-placed candidate, Sir Ronald then withdrew and, in the second round, 10 of those who had voted for him supported the Baroness, who prevailed over Mrs Masire-Mwamba by 26 to 24. It would appear that Mr Sanders’ remaining three votes were either spoilt or abstentions.

Clearly, the Commonwealth vote was split, mainly along regional lines, because the Caribbean – both the Commonwealth members of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and of Caricom – could not, in private and in good time, agree on a single regional consensus candidate for the post, which might well have pre-empted the nomination of the Botswana candidate. This was most unfortunate.

But, Baroness Scotland must be congratulated on her achievement. She is the first woman to be elected Commonwealth Secretary-General and the first of African descent to boot. The Dominican-British Baroness now joins the Haitian-born, former Governor-General of Canada Michaëlle Jean, who was elected Secretary-General of the Francophonie (the French equivalent of the Commonwealth) in 2014, and Dr Carissa Etienne, also of Dominica, the current Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), as the only women of African descent heading major international organizations. Kudos to them.

Now, Baroness Scotland and her regional sponsor, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica, must, as we also suggested on Wednesday, exert themselves to assure all those who did not vote for her, that she is the Secretary-General for the whole Commonwealth and, more importantly for our region, that she is well and truly a Caribbean Secretary-General, representative of all that is good in the region and a champion of all that our region stands for and seeks in the Commonwealth and in the international arena.

Commonwealth Caribbean member states must put this election behind them and work with the new Secretary-General for the good of the Commonwealth and the region. Even so, they are now left to rue the unseemly bickering, political infighting and complete lack of strategic thinking that saw them divided and disunited, failing to reach consensus and confirming the widely-held view of serious cracks in the Caricom edifice. One hopes that they will learn some lessons from this failure of foreign policy coordination.

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