Alfred Dawes | Congrats, Kamina!
Let me be the first to congratulate the new secretary general of the Commonwealth of Nations, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith. I wholeheartedly wish her the best in executing her duties and representing our interests, especially in these difficult...
Let me be the first to congratulate the new secretary general of the Commonwealth of Nations, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith. I wholeheartedly wish her the best in executing her duties and representing our interests, especially in these difficult times. Perhaps a bit premature? Not at all. The handwriting is on the wall. The incumbent, Baroness Patricia Scotland, has been found wanting. It matters not by whose unseen hand; the script is already written. Senator Johnson Smith’s remarkable journey to Marlborough House is full of intrigue. Where better to begin such a tale as in the middle of the story, do a flashback leading up to the present, and finally, the climax that will be played out in real time.
There has been a convention that a secretary general is re-elected unopposed for a second four-year term. The lone challenger who departed from this understanding was humiliated in the election in 2003. This time it is different. The democracy has appropriately been managed. Baroness Scotland has fallen out of favour with the elite who had helped her to become the first female secretary general. Her fairy-tale rise from her birth in Dominica, to the British House of Lords and now head of the Commonwealth Secretariat, is coming to an ignominious ending.
In 2015, Baroness Scotland defeated the frontrunner, Sir Ronald Sanders, who was previously Antigua and Barbuda’s high commissioner to the UK. Lady Scotland was supported by the UK while CARICOM was divided in their support for their two natives in the field of three candidates. Then two days before the election, a damning article was carried in a London tabloid that cast aspersions as to the character of Sir Ronald based on dubious allegations of impropriety more than a decade earlier. Despite a public letter from the Antiguan commissioner of police that there was no merit to the allegations, the timing was perfect, and the damage already done. Although there were objections out of Canada because of her earlier “anti-Commonwealth” dealings in the Maldives, Baroness Scotland was propelled into the job.
In a twist of fate, it is now Scotland who has had her own reputation impugned, by allegations of cronyism. In 2020, the British government suspended its funding of the Commonwealth Secretariat after damning revelations by auditors. Lady Scotland was accused of “circumventing” competitive tendering rules in awarding a lucrative contract to her friend and political ally. It was further revealed that the chosen firm was heavily indebted, close to insolvency at the time. The auditors highlighted variations in the application of procurement rules on at least 50 occasions over three years. The proposal for Lady Scotland’s term to be extended automatically due to the pandemic were shot down at least twice by a significant percentage of the 54-member group. It was clear that a number of states, led by the UK, had lost confidence in her leadership and there would be a challenge. But from whom?
The British colonies were clustered around the great lakes region of East Africa and the historical slaving forts in the Gulf of Guinea. The larger countries of Southern Africa represent a lower concentration of votes in their grouping. The replacement candidate had to have the support of the regions with the highest numbers of votes. Monica Juma of Kenya soon threw her hat in the ring. However, in spite of securing a number of commitments from the majority of members, Kenya could not obtain the consensus needed to take Juma past the post. She withdrew with just four months to the election. A replacement was needed urgently.
With the Caribbean leaders having already reached a consensus on their support for Lady Scotland, splitting that voting bloc with a Caribbean contender, backed by Africa, was the perfect strategy to oust the incumbent. Politics is a beauty contest, and Senator Johnson Smith is attractive enough to voters to be the perfect fit. With experience, poise and the gift of gab, she has been working the Commonwealth rooms across the globe. Not only has she toured the clusters in East and West Africa, but she has made visits and calls to Southern African Who is Who. Of course, she has been helped by the “coincidental” visits of the presidents of India, Ram Nath Kovind, and Rwanda, Paul Kagame, who, as host of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, will declare the winner of the secret straw poll in June.
Endorsements from the Maldives, Singapore and India have paved the way for the “surprise” endorsement from Boris Johnson last week. We can guess who Australia and New Zealand, who reportedly temporarily withheld contributions as well, will support. Having secured the support of the big players, Africa rallying behind her, and the Asia-Pacific states most likely assured that the next secretary general will be from their region, a win in June is all but assured.
What is less clear is whether Jamaica’s “monumental error”, according to Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne, will have greater ripple effects than Dominica’s breaking ranks to support Lady Scotland in 2015. Already Jamaica’s commitment towards regional integration has been questioned. A vote on the legitimacy of the Maduro government at the Organization of American States, voting against the interests of Trinidad and Tobago in support of a charge levelled against them by the pretender Juan Guaidó, as well as a visit to Mara Lago by a select group of Caribbean leaders excluding then CARICOM chairperson Mia Mottley, have all served to deepen rifts within the group. Again, CARICOM will be divided on this vote along familiar lines that are indications of cracks in the Chaguaramas Treaty. A crucial role of the new secretary general is to help heal those and other neocolonial-created schisms in the African-Caribbean-Pacific group. We wish her well.
- Dr Alfred Dawes is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, CEO of Windsor Wellness Centre. Follow him on Twitter @dr_aldawes. Send feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.