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November 18, 1999


Reinventing the Commonwealth

Kate Ford and Sunder Katwala


1.Introduction: Reinventing the Commonwealth
2.A Prosperous Commonwealth: Making globalisation deliver for people
3.Democracy and good governance: Making shared values effective
4.The People’s Commonwealth: Enabling Civil Society
5.Making the Commonwealth Matter
6.The ‘image thing’: Getting the Commonwealth across
Conclusion: The ‘Kitemark Commonwealth’

As the Commonwealth seeks to reinvent itself for the 21st century, this report sets out a radical reform agenda to turn the Commonwealth into an internationally-recognised standard for good governance and growth. The ‘Commonwealth Kitemark’ could offer members a vital edge as they compete for investment and trade. But Commonwealth countries will have to live up to their shared values and deal with abuses to make reform pay off. Defining a ‘new Commonwealth consensus’ in each of the key areas of global competition, democracy and the development of civil society, the report shows how members could benefit from this as long as they throw off the old Commonwealth caution to build the modern organisation that they need. By standing proudly for its values so that they can deliver prosperity and democracy, the Commonwealth can pioneer a new model of international cooperation that gives countries greater ownership of their own development.
Kate Ford and Sunder Katwala are researchers at The Foreign Policy Centre.

Read an article by the authors and the Introduction to the report below. For more reaction to the report, see the Foreign Policy Centre In the News section of ‘Hot News’

Now is the time to act, not just talk
Kate Ford and Sunder Katwala.
The Daily Telegraph , Monday 8th November, reproduced with kind permission.

THE empty seat between New Zealand and Saint Lucia at the Commonwealth Heads of Governments’ 50th birthday bash in Durban will speak volumes. Pakistan’s suspension demonstrates a new Commonwealth consensus stretching from President Obasanjo in Nigeria to Jean Chrétien in Canada. On all the big issues, the Commonwealth can agree as never before. It can stand for democracy and human rights because it doesn’t include countries such as Burma. It can be bold on international co-operation because it doesn’t include China or Russia. It can be positive about globalisation because it doesn’t include protectionists such as France or Japan.
It can now leave its 20th-century divisions behind and create a “Commonwealth kitemark” for its members, a recognition of good governance. But for this guarantee to be credible, the reality will have to match up. Some members will need help to reform; and those that don’t try must be told “live up to your values or leave”.
The immediate red card to General Musharraf shows how much progress has been made since the days when the heads of government hoped that Idi Amin would have the good manners not to turn up; but it also shows that the Commonwealth ministers still don’t swing into action until it is too late. It is now time for the Commonwealth foreign ministers’ action group to protect democracy before coups take place.
The Commonwealth needs to create an “at risk” register so that it can help turn weak democracies into strong ones and warn persistent abusers of the consequences of their actions. In order to do this properly, the Commonwealth needs a permanent body that drives this agenda forward. At Durban, they should appoint a “good governance commissioner” to work with members and to investigate complaints.
As well as policing existing guidelines, the good governance commissioner should draw up a new mission statement that outlines detailed standards on fair multi-party elections, tackling corruption and protecting human rights. But agreeing in principle is not enough. Democracies “at risk” must be asked to draw up concrete action plans to tackle their problems.
It’s not just about Pakistan holding elections. Zimbabwe must show how it respects the right to oppose; Kenya, the rights of minorities; Sri Lanka, the freedom of the press. The Commonwealth must start to build democracy as well as dealing firmly with abusers. Countries such as Mozambique and Ghana deserve support in their reforms. But other stragglers should also be told that, if they cannot demonstrate significant progress by the 2003 Commonwealth summit, they will be suspended.
The Commonwealth needs timed action plans, not communiqués that are filed away to gather dust. It can no longer afford to flit on and off the international stage every two years, entirely forgotten once the caravan of international summitry moves on. Heads of government in Durban will find that they have inherited the structures of a debating society that didn’t want to do much more than make empty calls for world peace and nuclear disarmament.
When they appoint the new secretary-general, they must also reinvent the Commonwealth’s structures so that their agenda can be followed up. The hierarchical, bureaucratic, ultra-cautious secretariat, which survived quietly through the post-colonial era, now needs to be transformed into an engine for change.
But the biggest challenge is for members themselves. Commonwealth commentators have spoken for years about how the common language and institutional inheritance can create a “Commonwealth factor” that can make investment and trade with other Commonwealth countries 10-15 per cent cheaper if all other things are equal. But, for too long, other things have not been equal: corruption, kleptocracy and a lack of capacity and infrastructure have made investment hazardous.
Even successful reformers such as Botswana have seen growth stunted when investors act on stereotypes which lump all African economies together as basket-cases. By becoming a guarantor for countries that are open and democratic, where the rule of law and a strong civil society provide the conditions for safe investment, the Commonwealth can provide its members with a premium. Once the reforms have happened, it should market its “kitemark”, which will be recognised internationally and benefit members in their dealings with investors, donors and institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF.
This agenda would have been unthinkable at any other point in the Commonwealth’s history. In the past, the Commonwealth came together to disagree and could only really find consensus when it was attacking Britain or South Africa. And Britain got the Commonwealth wrong. Once it could no longer serve as a surrogate empire, we tried to run away from what seemed a biennial Brit-bashing convention. We spent decades debating whether to choose the Commonwealth, Europe or America. Only now have we realised that Britain’s advantage is how many global connections it has. And the Commonwealth helps us understand our new multi-cultural identity at home, too.
So, while many may be surprised that the Commonwealth has reached the 21st century at all, in fact what have faded away are the things that have held it back. Pakistan’s empty chair marks the fact that the Commonwealth has finally come of age. It can promote its values and act on them, not just put on a splendid spread for the alumni of empire.

Kate Ford and Sunder Katwala are researchers at The Foreign Policy Centre. They are coauthors of Reinventing the Commonwealth (£9.95), published by The Foreign Policy Centre.

You can read the opening chapter of the pamphlet here. To order the full pamphlet, please call Central Books, 00 44 208 986 5488. The text is copyright of The Foreign Policy Centre and not to be copied or reproduced without permission.
Reinventing the Commonwealth

The Commonwealth is seeking to reinvent itself.

It is determined to demonstrate that it is modern, _relevant and looking firmly to the future as it meets for the final time this century. This report looks at how the Commonwealth can turn that promise into a reality. It sets out the reform agenda which can make the Commonwealth an internationally-recognised standard for good governance and growth. It shows how the Commonwealth can help its members secure investment and be heard in the international system ? by being clear about its values and helping its members to realise them.

The stage-management for Durban could not be better. The Commonwealth leaves the twentieth century in a flurry of rich symbolism. Its Heads of Government Meeting ? or ?CHOGM? ? takes place in what we still call the new South Africa, so powerful were those images of democratic change five years ago. President Thabo Mbeki will lead the Commonwealth’s attempts to grapple with globalisation and to discover the formula for people-centred development. Nigeria?s return to the fold further symbolises hopes of an African renaissance, and the Commonwealth?s commitment to democratic values, while the absence of Pakistan reminds leaders of the fragility of democracy and how much remains to be done. The Durban jamboree also marks the modern Commonwealth?s 50th anniversary. With 53 governments from countries ranging in size from India to Nauru, and surrounded by a People?s Centre, NGO Forum and a multinational media circus, CHOGM ?99 could not be more different from the 8-strong Commonwealth Prime Ministers? Meetings discussing family matters over the fire in Whitehall. The Commonwealth wants to project how much it has changed, and will also elect a successor as Secretary-General to Chief Emeka Anyaoku to take the helm as the Commonwealth seeks to deliver on its goals of good governance, growth and global consensus in the new millennium. It wants to be a very modern Commonwealth.

Yet many still regard this as an oxymoron. The Commonwealth has had to spend fifty years denying that it is simply a post-imperial alumni club, deeply frustrated at always being asked ?Is the Commonwealth still relevant??. It now has the opportunity to define a meaningful role for itself. But to do this, the Commonwealth will have to think, organise itself and act differently.

To make a difference, the Commonwealth should focus on the many things it agrees on ? it shouldn?t value its diversity for diversity?s sake. In previous decades, it allowed north and south to talk in what was (sometimes) a less confrontational atmosphere than elsewhere. But exchanging opposing views about global economics or neocolonialism or calling for east-west dialogue and world peace had little practical value. The Commonwealth was more a debating society than an organisation which sought to deliver. The Commonwealth is not the United Nations ? and there is no point in seeking to emulate it by being a smaller, weaker and equally-divided organisation. As it does not need to embrace every single state in the world, the Commonwealth can avoid the lowest common denominator politics of the UN where the General Assembly becomes a talking-shop, organisational reform is blocked and the Security Council can only act when the USA, China, Russia, France and Britain all agree.

In recent decades, the Commonwealth has measured its success by the number of members it had, not the quality of the work it did for them. It sought to prove that it was not fading away by growing as big as possible. After the initial waves of decolonisation, it has continued to expand and Secretary-Generals have pointed to the queue at the door as a sign of vitality. But the Commonwealth needs to rethink its approach to membership. It needs to set higher standards for new members ? and make clear to applicants like Yemen how they would need to improve their poor human rights records.1 By ensuring that members sign up to high standards ? and take concrete action to deliver them ? the Commonwealth can truly add value for all of its members, and vouch for their commitment to democracy, good governance and growth to international organisations and the investment community. To be taken seriously, so that countries get real benefits from membership, the Commonwealth might have to suspend members that abuse these norms ? as it began to do by suspending Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Pakistan in the 1990s and by monitoring The Gambia?s progress closely.

The Commonwealth?s biggest strength today comes from the fact that it is a highly diverse group of countries and peoples from every continent and at every stage of development which share common values ? and which do agree on the really big questions.

A Commonwealth of values

The Commonwealth in the 1990s found that it was able to evolve into an organisation which could state its values clearly and begin to act on them. The values that Commonwealth countries share are not unique to them ? in fact they form the basis of an emerging global consensus ? but the Commonwealth does not contain the countries which have stopped other international organisations from pursuing this agenda more vigorously.

The Commonwealth has affirmed the importance of democracy and has gone further than other international bodies in suspending members when they break with democracy. And it is committed to developing civil society , as an essential tool to safeguard democracy and to deliver the ?people-centred development? which is the theme of CHOGM. The Commonwealth makes much of its people-to-people links. It does not contain governments like those of China and Burma, which oppose the idea of fundamental human rights.

Commonwealth countries all believe in trying to seize the opportunities of globalisation for themselves and their peoples ? it does not contain any of those few states like Iraq, Cuba, Serbia and North Korea which seek to stand outside the world economy, nor those developed countries like France, Japan and the United States which are schizophrenic, and often have strong protectionist instincts when it suits them.

The Commonwealth believes in countries having ownership over their own development. It does not believe that successful development can be managed from outside. It wants the world?s multilateral institutions and donor communities to work in genuine partnership to empower legitimate governments which accept their rights and responsibilities: their democratic mandate to govern their societies, and the need to do so in partnership with and in the interests of their own people.

The Commonwealth believes in the idea of an international community. Commonwealth countries have an enlightened view of self-interest and believe in international cooperation as a way to further it. The Commonwealth does not contain countries like the USA, China and Russia which seek to protect their interests by projecting power rather than pooling it multilaterally, nor those ?pariah states? whose regimes believe that self-destructive defiance is the best way to hang on to power.

This is the new Commonwealth consensus ? it is what the organisation stands for today. Of course, Commonwealth members do not agree on everything ? nor should they. And many countries need to make progress to make their commitments a reality. But their shared values give Commonwealth members a very solid foundation on which to build ? the question is how to make it pay off for its members in practice.

Making the Commonwealth consensus matter
But the Commonwealth needs to change if it is to deliver on the new Commonwealth consensus.

The Commonwealth must become a more delivery-oriented organisation. It must leave the excessive caution of the past behind, and develop an infrastructure capable of achieving its objectives.

Commonwealth countries need to make their commitments a reality. The Commonwealth talks about a ?Commonwealth Factor? in trade and investment, but needs to help Commonwealth countries overcome the realities of corruption and a lack of capacity which hold them back.

The Commonwealth needs to project itself and its values ? as a quality standard of good governance and safe investment. Otherwise, successful reformers will continue to be held back by outdated stereotypes and fail to win the investment and growth they deserve.

Capitalising on the new Commonwealth consensus could make Commonwealth countries richer, their societies more equal and their democracies stronger. It can give them a greater say both in the international system and over the future of their own societies. Chapters 2-6 outline the ways that the Commonwealth needs to move forward in order to achieve this. But the key factor will be whether its members embrace this agenda and make it work.

If they do, membership of the Commonwealth will be a much more valuable asset than it has been in the past. The Commonwealth will not just take useful initiatives on capacity-building and good governance, it will engage more deeply to ensure that all members have the ability to reach their goals and agree time-scales and action plans to tackle problems. All Commonwealth members need to play their part in making the Commonwealth a seal of quality, a ?Commonwealth Kitemark? for countries that are open and democratic, where the rule of law and a strong civil society provide the conditions for safe investment, whose members have got themselves in shape for the global age.

But the reality will need to match this image. Countries which are struggling may need extra help, but those which do not try to uphold common values must not be allowed to hold others back. The Commonwealth may need to create a warning list for countries who consistently and deliberately flout agreed objectives on democracy, good governance and civil society. Nobody can force them to do it ? the Commonwealth?s value is that it is a voluntary grouping of countries which have decided that they will benefit by working together. But the Commonwealth can ask its members to take their shared commitments seriously.

The conclusion of this report proposes a timetable for reform. We believe that it is an achievable one ? which could greatly enhance the Commonwealth?s value and status. All of the Commonwealth?s peoples want similar things. All of its governments are committed to shared values. Those who are not living up to them will need to change if they want to prosper ? that will be the case whether they want to use the Commonwealth to support reform or not. We do not think that any member would want to leave the Commonwealth ? when it could enable countries to have more control over their own plans. If any regime did choose isolation over reform, then the Commonwealth must be ready to work with its successors to welcome that country back. But few countries will want to turn down genuine assistance ? and none can really afford to walk out of a good governance club. All countries need a reputation for real reform in order to grow.

Reinventing the Commonwealth will enable its members to make their common values pay off. They can win real rewards ? not just of enhanced growth, prosperity and social development, but of genuine ownership of their own solutions as they seek to prosper in a globalised world.

Daily Telegraph, Monday 8 November 1999
‘Kitemark’ urged as quality guarantee of good governance

By Rachel Sylvester

THE Commonwealth, which was set up 50 years ago, must “reinvent” itself as a modern organisation promoting the economic credibility of its members, according to the Foreign Policy Centre report.

Member countries must be forced to adhere to tough new criteria on human rights and democracy so that the organisation can vouch for their standards to international investors and aid agencies.

Kate Ford and Sunder Katwala, the authors, write: “The Commonwealth has had to spend 50 years denying that it is simply a post-imperial alumni club. It now has the opportunity to define a meaningful role for itself. But to do this, the Commonwealth will have to think, organise itself and act differently.”

Putting Britain back in its place
The centre says it is time “to destroy the myth of the “British Commonwealth”. The report calls for the chair of the Heads of Government Meeting to speak as “Commonwealth President” at international summits. This would be in addition to the Queen’s symbolic role as the head of the Commonwealth.

The authors also call for debate on whether the Prince of Wales should ever take over. They float the idea of moving the headquarters of the Commonwealth out of London – a proposal which could lead to the renaming of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The report says: “There should be nothing shocking about debating the idea of Nelson Mandela as the next head of the Commonwealth or considering Delhi or Lagos as the seat of the secretariat.”

Criteria for membership
The report identifies five standards by which countries should be assessed. They would mean the re-writing of the 1991 Harare Declaration on human rights but the authors say this is too vague and leaves “loopholes for abuse”. They argue that there are “economic as well as ethical imperatives” for the Commonwealth to improve the way in which its members are judged.”

The criteria are:

Holding free and fair competitive elections;
Establishing the rule of law and judicial independence;
Tackling corruption and promoting honest and efficient administration;
Promoting civil society and creating a framework for links between Government and aid organisations;
Respecting fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, association and the press.

Policing the Commonwealth
The report calls for more pro-active policing of the Commonwealth. A Good Governance Commissioner should be appointed to investigate existing member states and examine the applications from countries that would like to join, it says.

At present, enforcement is the responsibility of the ministerial action group, set up after the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa in Nigeria in 1995. This usually acts only in extremis, stepping in after a military coup such as the recent one in Pakistan.

The FPC calls for errant countries to be thrown out before a military crisis occurs, so that the record of members can be defended. The report says: “To be taken seriously, so that countries get real benefits from membership, the Commonwealth might have to suspend members that abuse these norms.”

It identifies four “dinosaurs” whose records are weak. They would be put on notice of expulsion immediately then formally expelled in 2003 if they did not improve.

The report says: “Zimbabwe will be asked to improve its approach to freedom of association, Kenya’s minority rights record should be monitored carefully, Zambia should be asked to produce a concrete timetable for elections which all sides agree are fair, and Sri Lanka should respond to concerns about press freedom.”

Rewarding good behaviour
Countries which passed the criteria test would be able to use a “Commonwealth “kitemark”, guaranteeing minimum standards. The report says: “The Commonwealth can became a quality assurance of good governance that can be promoted vigorously to international investors and institutions.

“The ‘Commonwealth Kitemark’ needs to be recognised as a copper-bottomed guarantee that countries are delivering high standards on good governance, human rights and civil society – as well as establishing a new form of international co-operation which empowers legitimate governments.”

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