Will the commonwealth organisation thrive under King Charles?


Britain's King Charles III. PHOTO | AFP

Following the death of British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II last week, a letter circulating on social media claimed that President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe had been barred from attending the funeral ostensibly based on travel restrictions imposed by the UK.

The UK embassy in Zimbabwe has since dismissed the letter as fake and confirmed that President Mnangagwa was indeed invited to the funeral and that no travel restrictions exist against him.

Zimbabwe has a long history of confrontation with the Commonwealth under Mugabe’s rule. It was first suspended from the Commonwealth in 2002 because Mugabe, who had ruled the country since 1980, rigged his re-election in 2002 and persecuted his opponents.

The former president withdrew Zimbabwe’s membership in 2003 after the suspension was renewed, calling the Commonwealth “an evil organisation.”

The withdrawal marked only the third occasion (after South Africa in 1961 and Pakistan in 1971) that a country had withdrawn voluntarily, although Ireland had voluntarily declared itself a republic in 1949, thereby ending its membership.

In 2018, 15 years later, Zimbabwe applied for re-admission to the Commonwealth under President Mnangagwa.

In a rejoinder, the Commonwealth said that Zimbabwe must “demonstrate that it complies with the fundamental values set out in the Commonwealth Charter, including democracy and rule of law plus protection of human rights, such as freedom of expression.”

As of the time of writing Zimbabwe’s application for re-admission has neither been approved nor rejected.

The death of Queen Elizabeth II set into motion a historic transition of power, not just in Britain but in 54 countries across the world that maintain ties to the royal family as members of the Commonwealth of Nations, an international organisation composed mostly of former British colonies.

Historian W. David McIntyre once described the Commonwealth as “a loose association of states whose relationship with Britain and each other often defied definition.”

The Commonwealth of Nations was born out of a slow disintegration of the British Empire, which at its zenith covered a fifth of the world’s surface in the late 19th century.

Its holdings spanned from Hong Kong to the Caribbean, to a wide swath of southern and East Africa. Queen Victoria, whose reign was pivotal in consolidating the empire, became Empress of India in 1877.

In the aftermath of WWI, rising nationalism in the dominions which had fought alongside Britain sparked a push for more than just self-governance. In 1926, Britain and the dominions agreed that they would be equal in status, “united by a common allegiance to the Crown.”

The declaration, formalised in 1931 by the Statute of Westminster, ushered in the official founding of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

After India won its independence in 1947, many British colonies followed suit, particularly in Africa.

Today, the Commonwealth tackles initiatives related to trade, environmental protection, education, sports, and human rights, amongst others.

While the day-to-day work of the organisation is overseen by a bureaucracy, Queen Elizabeth’s role was mainly to reinforce the bonds among member nations by embarking on regular royal tours. The position is not technically hereditary but in 2018, the organisation announced that Prince Charles would succeed his mother.

I doubt that King Charles will have the same energy or charisma as his mother to drive the monarchy.

The Commonwealth is likely to die as a colonial relic and an old boys’ club.

Perhaps Africa should look within and strengthen regional trade and cooperation. Kenya is spearheading the growth of the East African Community and the inclusion of the DRC earlier this year was a prize catch.

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