Comment

A moment of hope for the Commonwealth

It seems the impetus is there, particularly among African members, to make the Commonwealth a real strategic force

There are few better examples of the Commonwealth’s evolving role in world affairs than Rwanda. The African nation joined in 2009 not because of historical links with the British Empire, but to improve cultural and trade ties with fellow Commonwealth states in its region. Rwanda considered this a moment to move on from its own colonial past, switching the official language in schools from French to English.

The country has been at the centre of a controversy over the UK Government’s new asylum policy. But this week, as it hosts the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Rwanda has become the focal point for discussions on the future of the association, which has faced questions over its purpose. The summit will deal in the first instance with concerns over the administration of Baroness Scotland as she bids for re-election as secretary general. Yet the leaders have also gathered with a sense of rejuvenation, recognising opportunities for deeper cooperation.

Yesterday’s meetings focused on health partnerships to tackle drug-resistant infections, malaria and neglected tropical diseases. There is also hope that free trade will soon become one of the association’s central tenets, with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari recently advocating, in The Telegraph, for reduced Commonwealth trade barriers, given the shared features between many members of the English language and common law. He evoked Brexit as a reason to accelerate this agenda.

It seems the impetus is there, particularly among African members, to make the Commonwealth a real strategic force. Fears that the body had become less relevant in world affairs would appear to be misplaced.