The death of Queen Elizabeth II and the formal proclamation of King Charles III are great opportunities for the Commonwealth to come together.
This was the comment of a former British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Paul Arkwright, who spoke on Saturday, hours after Charles III was formally proclaimed king at a pomp-filled ceremony.
“The Commonwealth is very important to King Charles. In 2018 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London, there was a decision that he would become the Head of the Commonwealth upon the passing of his mother,” Arkwright told Channels Television.
“That is again another smooth transition when it comes to his role as the Head of the Commonwealth. But as the Queen herself used to describe the Commonwealth as a family, I do think that this is a moment for the whole family to come together.
“You are right, there have been strains within the Commonwealth, but I think, at the recent meeting in Kigali, which of course was a meeting held in Africa, we welcomed two new members from Africa. I think the Commonwealth is in good hands.”
According to him, the recent developments in the UK offer chances to further strengthen the values of the Commonwealth, maintaining that “it is a good moment to reflect” despite the strain in the group.
“It is a moment to look forward and to see how we can build the Commonwealth family and to make it even stronger,” he added.
He admitted that this is a difficult moment for Britain but argued that there is a note of optimism for the country.
“We are facing some turbulent times in the UK both politically and economically. We got a winter ahead which I think will be very difficult for many people in the UK,” Arkwright said.
“But this is a moment when everybody can come together and it is a unifying moment and I think there is a note of hope and optimism about the family – if you like, not just the Royal Family but all of us as a family (the family of the Commonwealth) coming together to wish the new king well.”
Commonwealth leaders from around the world hailed Queen Elizabeth II as an inspiring, dignified and extraordinary leader after the British monarch’s death at the age of 96.
The queen became head of the Commonwealth of Nations, a group largely made up of former British Empire territories that spans six continents, after her accession to the throne in 1952.
Many of the bloc’s 56 member countries won their independence during her reign as decolonisation movements gained ground throughout Africa and Asia, including some nations with raw memories of colonial rule.
But Commonwealth leaders throughout the world were quick to praise the queen as a gracious monarch who presided over a momentous era in history and demonstrated great political acumen in her state dealings.
“I will never forget her warmth and kindness,” said India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
She had provided “inspiring leadership to her nation and people”, he tweeted, recalling a meeting in Britain where she showed him a handkerchief given to her at her wedding by Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi.
In neighbouring Pakistan, President Arif Alvi remembered the queen as a “great and beneficent ruler” whose departure had left an immense vacuum.
Elizabeth II “would be remembered in golden words in the annals of world history”, he added.
Maldives President Mohamed Ibrahim Solih said the queen was a “shining example of public service, resilience and devotion to one’s country”.
Australian Prime Minster Anthony Albanese — an avowed republican — paid tribute to Elizabeth II’s “timeless decency” and said her death marked the “end of an era.”
“An historic reign and a long life devoted to duty, family, faith and service has come to an end,” he said.
His New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern said she had learned of the queen’s death when a “police officer shone a torch into my room at around ten to five this morning”.
She said she had been reading some of the accounts of the queen’s ill health before going to bed, so “when that torchlight came into my room I knew immediately what it meant”.
“I am profoundly sad,” she added.
Canadian premier Justin Trudeau said the queen would “forever remain an important part” of his country’s history.
“She was a constant presence in our lives,” he said, adding that the monarch would be remembered for her “wisdom, compassion and warmth”.
‘Etched on our hearts’
The leader of Malawi, where Elizabeth II reigned as sovereign before it transitioned to a republic in 1966, said he had “fond memories” of hosting the queen during a royal tour the following decade.
“Her inimitable legacy as a friend of Malawi will forever be etched on our hearts and indelibly marked in the pages of our history, a history she positively shaped in more ways than we can put into words,” said President Lazarus Chakwera.
And the president of Zimbabwe, which withdrew from the Commonwealth in 2003 after its suspension over human rights concerns, and endured decades of frosty relations with its former colonial ruler, offered his own sympathies to the British public.
“May she rest in peace,” wrote President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
‘Will it survive?’
In recent years, the Commonwealth has opened its doors to countries that were never British colonies, as it seeks to maintain its relevance in a changing world.
Its members now include former Portuguese colony Mozambique, and its two most recent new members Gabon and Togo, which joined on June 25, were once ruled by France.
“Queen Elizabeth II was a great friend of Africa and Africa was affectionate towards her in return,” said Gabonese president Ali Bongo.
The monarch had been a “driving force” in the Commonwealth, said Harsh V Pant, professor of international relations at King’s India Institute in London.
Her death would raise questions over the grouping’s future, he told AFP: “So what happens to that Commonwealth now: will it survive going forward?”
President Paul Kagame on Saturday fiercely defended Rwanda’s record on human rights and political freedoms as the curtains closed on a Commonwealth summit where his country came under intense scrutiny.
The Commonwealth also welcomed two new members into the fold at its summit in Kigali — the French-speaking West African states of Togo and Gabon that have no historic ties to Britain.
The decision to hold the gathering in Rwanda was heavily criticised by rights watchdogs, which accused Commonwealth leaders of turning a blind eye to repression and the jailing of opponents in the host country.
Kagame, who has been de facto ruler since the end of the genocide in 1994, told reporters Rwanda was proud of its record and would not be lectured by outsiders.
“As far as values are concerned, we don’t need any lessons from BBC or from anyone,” Kagame said in an impassioned statement that lasted nearly 30 minutes.
“I want to assure you there is nobody… who (is) beholding values better than we do here in Rwanda,” he told the summit’s closing press conference.
Ahead of the meeting attended by Prince Charles and around 30 leaders, rights groups warned that Kigali’s sparkling streets had been cleared of the homeless and street kids to maintain a glossy image for visitors.
In an open letter, 23 civil society organisations said there was a “climate of fear” in Rwanda and urged Commonwealth leaders not to risk the body’s integrity by letting Kagame off the hook.
His government had presided over a crackdown on rights of assembly, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture and extrajudicial executions, they said.
Kagame rejected any suggestion his government detained opponents, saying some of his most vocal critics had been freed from prison by presidential pardon.
“There is nobody in Rwanda who is in prison that should not be there, because we have a justice system that is actually functional, and fair,” he said.
Kagame also announced that Gabon and Togo had been admitted into the Commonwealth, the first new members since Rwanda in 2009.
“This is a historic moment! A new important page in the history of Gabon is opening 62 years after its independence,” Gabonese President Ali Bongo said in a statement.
Togo’s Foreign Minister Robert Dussey said membership opened the door to 2.5 billion consumers in the Commonwealth realm, offered new education opportunities, and tapped a “craze” for English among his countrymen.
Francophone states have also sought to join the Commonwealth in recent years to pivot away from former colonial ruler France, analysts said.
The admission of Gabon and Togo takes membership to 56 nations, and is a boon for the Commonwealth at a time of renewed discussion over its future relevance and modern profile.
Republican movements are taking root in a number of Commonwealth nations and some are seeking reparations for colonial-era injustices.
On Friday, Prince Charles told Commonwealth leaders the choice to become a republic or abandon Queen Elizabeth II as head of state was theirs alone and expressed “personal sorrow” at Britain’s legacy of slavery.
And British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the interest from new members proved the organisation was alive and well.
But the admission of Gabon and Togo could raise questions about the Commonwealth’s espoused commitment to good governance, respect of rights and democracy as fundamental values of its charter.
Both countries have been ruled by single families for over half a century, and elections have been marred by irregularities and violence.
“We are much better together than we ever will be apart,” said Patricia Scotland, who was re-elected in Kigali for another two years as Commonwealth secretary-general after a bruising and divisive campaign.
Delegates at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) addressed issues including climate change, violence against women, mental health, vaccine equity, and urbanisation — to name a few.
A much-criticised deal to deport asylum-seekers from the UK to Rwanda dogged the meeting, however, with Johnson vigorously defending his policy.
Ahead of the summit it was reported that Charles — who takes over the Commonwealth when he becomes king — strongly opposed the migrant scheme.
The first transfer of asylum seekers scheduled this month was blocked in a European court, but Johnson insists the deal is not unlawful and he will pursue it.
Born out of the British Empire, the Commonwealth represents one-third of humanity in nations across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.
The next Commonwealth meet will be in Samoa in 2024.
The World Health Organization and the Commonwealth of Nations issued a joint plea Monday for vulnerable small states to get better access to Covid jabs to help revive their economies.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Commonwealth head Patricia Scotland met at the UN health agency’s headquarters in Geneva to sign an agreement focused on ending the pandemic and combating vaccine inequity.
“The impact of the pandemic will be felt for decades, especially among the most vulnerable,” Tedros said.
“The longer the pandemic drags on, the worse those impacts will be.”
The WHO wants 70 percent of the population in each country fully vaccinated by the end of June.
Tedros said that so far, 42 percent of Commonwealth citizens had been fully vaccinated — but only 23 percent across its African member states.
Scotland noted that 32 of the world’s 42 small states are in the Commonwealth.
“At current global vaccination rates, we could vaccinate the entire population of these states within two or three days,” she said.
Born out of the British empire, the Commonwealth brings together around a quarter of the world’s countries and a third of the world’s population.
“Equitable access to vaccines, especially for small and vulnerable countries, is the most pressing political, economic, social and moral priority,” Scotland said.
Besides the pandemic, the WHO-Commonwealth memorandum of understanding focused on promoting universal health coverage and primary health care, strengthening health security and exchanging innovation and knowledge.
The Commonwealth includes developed nations such as Britain, Canada and Australia, along with emerging economies like India, Nigeria and Malaysia and small island states such as Tuvalu and Barbados.
Nigeria is ranked 161st on the 2020 Global Youth Development Index which measures the status of young people in 181 countries around the world.
Singapore ranked top for the first time followed by Slovenia, Norway, Malta and Denmark. Chad, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Afghanistan and Niger came last respectively.
The index further reveals that the conditions of young people have improved around the world by 3.1 per cent between 2010 and 2018, but progress remains slow.
The Commonwealth Secretariat today released its triennial rankings of youth development in 181 countries, with 156 of them recording at least slight improvements in their scores.
While the data used in the index pre-dates COVID-19, the report highlights the positive trajectory of youth development which the virus could reverse for the first time unless urgent action is taken to secure the pre-pandemic gains.
The index ranks countries between 0.00 (lowest) and 1.00 (highest) according to the developments in youth education, employment, health, equality and inclusion, peace and security, and political and civic participation. It looks at 27 indicators including literacy and voting to showcase the state of the world’s 1.8 billion people between the age of 15 and 29.
Afghanistan, India, Russia, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso were the top five improvers, advancing their score, on average, by 15.74 per cent. On the other hand, Syria, Ukraine, Libya, Jordan and Lebanon showed the greatest decline in youth development between 2010 and 2018.
Overall, the index shows advances in youth’s participation in peace processes and their education, employment, inclusion and health care since 2010.
Health made the largest gains of 4.39 per cent driven by a 1.6 per cent decline in global youth mortality rates and a 2 per cent drop in each HIV, self-harm, alcohol abuse and tobacco use. Sub-Saharan Africa made the greatest strides in improving the health of young people.
Levels of underemployed youth and those not in school, training or work remained constant. Advances in equality and inclusion are led by improved gender parity in literacy as well as fewer child marriage cases and pregnancies in girls under 20. Yet no progress occurred in women’s safety.
The global education score increased by 3 per cent, with South Asia making the largest improvement of 16 per cent followed by sub-Saharan Africa with 10 per cent. Peace and security improved by 3.41 per cent, resulting from fewer young people dying from direct violence. Somalia recorded the largest gains in the peace and security of young people, followed by Colombia, Sri Lanka, Eritrea and Russia.
Youth participation in politics is the only domain to record a decline in most parts of the world, reporting a deterioration in 102 countries. However, sub-Saharan Africa recorded a 5 per cent improvement in the average regional score.
Globally, Sweden leads on education, Luxembourg on equality and inclusion, Indonesia on political and civic participation while Singapore tops the employment, health, and peace and security domains.
‘An empowered generation’
Speaking before the release, Commonwealth Secretary-General The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC said: “Young people are indispensable to delivering a future that is more just, inclusive, sustainable and resilient. By measuring their contributions and needs with hard data, our advocacy for their development becomes more powerful, and we are then able incrementally to increase the positive impact and benefits youth are able to add towards building a better future for us all.
“Our Youth Development Index is a vital tool which has already significantly enhanced our capacity to assess the extent to which youth are engaged to contribute beneficially in their societies, and empowered by enabling policies and tools.”
She added: “While the data used to compile the index was gathered before the COVID-19 pandemic, the findings indicate where progress was being achieved and where it was not, and that urgent action is now needed so that pre-pandemic gains are not lost but sustained and developed further, more broadly and more inclusively.
“As we work to recover and rebuild from the many consequences of the pandemic, we need to draw as fully as possible on the energy and idealism of youth so that fresh opportunities for social, economic and political development are opened up with present and future generations of young people equipped and empowered to fulfil their potential.”
Among its recommendations, the index calls for more investment in lifelong digital skilling of young people, mental health services, apprenticeships, road safety and youth participation in decision-making to reverse trends which adversely impact them.
It further urges governments to improve data collection on education and diversify how they measure digital skills and online engagement of youth.
In a pre-recorded message, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Hon Gaston Browne, said: “It is an important index which offers empirical evidence as to the level of youth development within the Commonwealth. It establishes a baseline so that youth development can be monitored regularly and we can see how we are closing the identified gaps.”
The index, which draws on multiple data sources, was to be released at the now-postponed Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2020. However, with CHOGM being postponed again until 2022, it was decided to release the index this year.
The Commonwealth Games Federation Sunday pledged to hold talks with India after its Olympic body threatened a boycott of the 2022 event in Birmingham over the exclusion of shooting.
India topped the table for shooting at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Australia, taking home 16 medals including seven gold for a total tally of 66 medals — the third-best performing nation.
Shooting and archery were last month nominated by the Birmingham organising committee as events to be dropped from the 2022 Games programme, and for women’s T20 cricket, beach volleyball and para-table tennis to be included. The decision has to be ratified by Commonwealth Games Federation members.
The Indian Olympic Association wrote to the government noting that if shooting events were removed, the country’s medal haul would take a big hit.
“The impression that will go down is of bad performance because (the) overall number of total medals may come down along with the overall ranking based on medals won,” the association said in a letter to India’s Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju.
“We want to express our protest by not taking part in 2022 CWG Games in UK.”
The association said it would like to hold talks with Rijiju.
In the letter, president Narinder Dhruv Batra added his organisation would not attend the Commonwealth Games Congress to be held in Rwanda in early September.
It was also withdrawing its two candidates for elections to be held there.
In response, the Commonwealth Games Federation said in a statement to AFP on Sunday that “we absolutely want India to participate wholeheartedly in Birmingham 2022”.
“We… look forward to meeting our colleagues in India over the coming months to discuss their concerns and future ambitions,” the statement said.
The Maldives has applied to rejoin the Commonwealth, reversing a policy of isolation under autocratic leader Abdulla Yameen who suffered a shock defeat in September.
His successor, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, wrote to the 53-member bloc on Friday seeking readmission two years after Yameen pulled the atoll nation out of it, the president’s office said Sunday.
Yameen withdrew the Maldives, an archipelago of 340,000 Sunni Muslims, from the Commonwealth after it mounted pressure on him to protect human rights and ensure the rule of law amid a ferocious crackdown on dissent.
Solih’s office said the new president’s administration believed in the values of the bloc, which consists mainly of former territories and colonies of the British empire.
“The Maldives’ interest in re-joining the Commonwealth stems from a deep conviction that the values and principles enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter are more vital than ever,” the president’s office said in a statement.
The 54-year-old took office last month after winning a landslide election victory despite Yameen waging a crackdown on his political rivals and jailing most of the opposition.
The former British protectorate faced persistent international pressure during Yameen’s iron-fisted tenure. The strongman accused the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat of interfering in the nation’s affairs.
During Yameen’s reign, the United States had repeatedly warned democracy was under serious threat in the strategically-located archipelago sitting on key international shipping lanes.
Since Solih’s election, political prisoners have been freed and opposition figures in exile have returned home.
Solih has warned of a “dire” economic crisis in the Maldives and asked regional power India for help. Yameen had drifted closer to China and the Maldives saw its foreign debt balloon under his leadership.
Zimbabwe has applied to rejoin the Commonwealth, the group said Monday, marking a major step in the country’s international re-engagement after Robert Mugabe was ousted last year.
Mugabe angrily pulled Zimbabwe out of the bloc of former British colonies in 2003 after its membership was suspended over violent and graft-ridden elections the previous year.
The Commonwealth said it had received a letter dated May 15 from Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa applying to re-join.
Member countries “very much look forward to Zimbabwe’s return when the conditions are right,” said Secretary-General Patricia Scotland in a statement from London.
“Zimbabwe’s eventual return to the Commonwealth, following a successful membership application, would be a momentous occasion.”
Scotland confirmed that the Commonwealth would send observers to elections due in July or August, the first polls since Mugabe was ousted in November after a brief military takeover.
Mugabe was replaced by his former deputy Mnangagwa, a veteran ruling ZANU-PF party loyalist who was backed by senior military officers.
Mnangagwa has vowed to hold fair and free elections, and has pledged to revive the moribund economy by repairing international ties and attracting foreign investment.
Scotland called for “a credible, peaceful and inclusive (election) that restores citizens’ confidence, trust and hope in the development and democratic trajectory of their country.”
Britain said last month that it would strongly support Zimbabwe returning to the Commonwealth.
Zimbabwe had fractured relations with the West under Mugabe, who had held power since independence from Britain in 1980.
The government in Harare was not immediately available to comment.
If readmitted, Zimbabwe will become the fifth country to re-join the voluntary association of mostly former territories of the British empire, after Gambia, South Africa, Pakistan and Fiji.
The Gambia re-joined the Commonwealth in February this year after the impoverished west African nation was in 2013 suddenly pulled out of the bloc by ex-president Yahya Jammeh.
The other countries to have quit the organisation are Ireland, which left in 1949 and the Maldives which exited in 2016.
The Commonwealth brings together 53 countries representing 2.4 billion people, under a charter pledging commitment to democracy, human rights and rule of law.
The last country to join was Rwanda, in 2009.
The organisation also holds an Olympics-style multi-sport event every four years, most recently in Australia’s Gold Coast in April.
Zimbabwe left the Commonwealth at the height of violent land seizures when white farmers were evicted in favour of landless black people in a policy that wrecked the agriculture sector and triggered a national economic collapse.
African leaders have to collaborate to tackle corruption, ensure the recovery and return of stolen assets, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said on Tuesday.
Osinbajo made the call at the opening of a four-day conference of heads of anti-corruption agencies from across Africa in Abuja.
“It is only through collective action that we can stay ahead of the criminal elements who rob our countries and citizens of their present and their future,” he said.
“African countries must come together to keep the issue of asset recovery and return on the front burner of international discuss.”
The Vice President was at the conference with three former Presidents – General Yakubu Gowon, General Abdulsalami Abubakar and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa – as well as the Chief Justice Of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka, and the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland.
Heads of anti-corruption agencies of countries that are members of the Commonwealth, including the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr Ibrahim Magu, were also in attendance at the conference, the eight in the series.
Of concern to all of them is the estimated $148 billion that has been taken away from Africa illegally.
The Commonwealth Secretary-General described the scale of the problem as a ravenous storm.
“The difference between the money we need to deliver the hopes and aspirations contained in our Commonwealth Charter of 2013 and the commitment we all made when we signed up to the UN SDGs of 2015 and the money we have is the sum equivalent of that which is siphoned off by the corrupt practices of the greedy, the uncaring and the pernicious few,” she said.
Queen Elizabeth II marked her 92nd birthday on Saturday with traditional gun salutes and a Commonwealth-themed charity concert featuring Tom Jones, Kylie and Shaggy.
Horse-drawn guns fired 41 times in Hyde Park and 62 times at the Tower of London, while at Windsor Castle, the band played “Happy Birthday” during the changing of the guard.
In the evening, the monarch and her family were due to attend a concert with performers from around the Commonwealth, the 53-nation grouping which held its summit in London this week.
Australia’s Kylie, Canadian pop chart-topper Shawn Mendes, South African all-male choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo and US-Jamaican reggae star Shaggy were to join British stars including Jones, Craig David and Sting.
The queen usually celebrates her birthday in private, saving the pomp for her official birthday in June.
The concert at the Royal Albert Hall will raise money for a new youth charity, The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust.
The monarch’s grandson Prince Harry, who will marry US actress Meghan Markle at Windsor on May 19, is the trust’s new president and was due to give a speech at the concert.
The queen has been the symbolic head of the Commonwealth since her father King George VI’s death in 1952, but its leaders agreed on Friday that her son and heir Prince Charles should succeed her.
The summit was overshadowed by a row over Britain’s treatment of Caribbean immigrants, while Charles himself also came under scrutiny.
A non-white writer, Anita Sethi, claimed he joked about whether she was really from the British city of Manchester when they met at a Commonwealth meeting this week.
Sethi — whose mother was born in Guyana — said Charles asked her where she was from and when she replied, said: “Well, you don’t look like it!” and laughed.
She wrote in The Guardian that she felt humiliated and angry, adding that “some people, including the prince, urgently need a history lesson about immigration”.
Commonwealth leaders agreed Friday that Prince Charles should follow his mother Queen Elizabeth II as the next head of the group, the BBC and other media reported.
Queen Elizabeth on Thursday told leaders from the 53 member states that she wanted her eldest son to succeed her in the symbolic figurehead role.
Leaders, gathered at Windsor Castle for private talks, agreed that Charles, heir to the thrones of 16 Commonwealth nations, should follow the monarch in the non-hereditary position, the BBC, Sky News television and the domestic Press Association news agency reported.
Following Queen Elizabeth’s public call as she opened the group’s summit on Thursday for potentially the final time, a series of Commonwealth premiers voiced their support Thursday for Charles as a figure of stability and continuity.
Queen Elizabeth, who turns 92 on Saturday, spoke of her own “extraordinary journey” since pledging to serve the Commonwealth for life when aged 21.
“It is my sincere wish that the Commonwealth will continue to offer stability and continuity for future generations and will decide that one day, the Prince of Wales should carry on the important work,” she said, referring to Charles.
Queen Elizabeth has been the Commonwealth’s symbolic figurehead since her father King George VI’s death in 1952.
Some Republican voices had been angling for change in future.
British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, head of the Labour Party, said on Sunday that the role could go to a rotating presidency.
But British Prime Minister Theresa May gave her backing to 69-year-old Charles.
“The government supports the Prince of Wales as the next head of the Commonwealth. He has been a proud supporter of the Commonwealth for more than four decades,” her spokesman said.
Canadian PM Justin Trudeau said: “I very much agree with the wishes of Her Majesty that the Prince of Wales be the next head of the Commonwealth.”
Maltese PM Joseph Muscat added: “We are certain that when he will be called upon to do so, he will provide a solid and passionate leadership for our Commonwealth.”