Commonwealth and the Queen’s wish


ZIMBABWE’s Foreign Affairs Minister Lieutenant-General Sibusiso Moyo (Rtd) was recently in the UK in a re-engagement drive aimed at taking Zimbabwe back into the community of nations — the Commonwealth.
The country left the Commonwealth, a network of 53 mostly former territories of the British Empire, in 2003 after disagreements over the southern African nation’s highly successful Land Reform and Resettlement Programme initiated in 2000.
On the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting last week, Minister Moyo met British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson to discuss Zimbabwe’s possible return to the organisation.
“The UK would strongly support Zimbabwe’s re-entry and a new Zimbabwe that is committed to political and economic reform that works for its entire people,” the UK Foreign Office said in a statement.
The question being asked is: Should Zimbabwe return to the Commonwealth and why?
Formation of the Commonwealth
After the Second World War, the process of decolonisation began.
The age of colonialism was over and the British Empire came to an end.
Out of the need to maintain British influence in former colonies came the desire to create another empire – the British Commonwealth – an association of sovereign states that have, at some time in the past, been ruled or are still being ruled by Britain.
In 1949, the association known today – the Commonwealth of Nations – came into being.
Today, it is the UK’s emblem of dominion.
The 53-country grouping is united by shared language, legal system and values, but above all, allegiance to the British crown.
It is important to note that out of the 53 members, about 23 are still using the Union Jack as their national flag.
These nations have incorporated the Union Jack into their own national flag as a symbol of their close relations with the UK.
Just as the flag of Great Britain gives visible expression to the union between England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, so do the flags of some of these independent nations.
Recently, there has been a new development in the Commonwealth.
There are now countries asking to join the grouping that have never been part of the empire.
The most recent members are South Africa (1994), Cameroon (1995) and Mozambique (1995).
All members recognise the British monarch as ‘Head of the Commonwealth’.
What’s in it for Zimbabwe?
If Zimbabwe is to return, what does it stand to benefit from the club?
Membership in the Commonwealth confers political prestige on an international stage for poor nations and some modest trade and aid benefits.
Members see exclusion from the ‘gentlemen’s club’, which highly values cordial diplomacy, as inflicting a huge opportunity cost.
Supporters of the Commonwealth say there are some beneficial cultural links for the former colonies.
Britain’s universities retain strong links with Commonwealth countries and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office runs internship programmes, such as the Chevening Scholarship, that are biased towards Commonwealth nationals.
The Association of Commonwealth Universities is an important vehicle for academic links, particularly through scholarships, principally the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowships for students to study in universities in other Commonwealth countries.
Commonwealth Games
The games are the Commonwealth’s most visible activity and interest in the operation of the Commonwealth increases greatly when the Games are held.
The Commonwealth Games, a multi-sport event, are held every four years.
This year, the Games were held in Gold Coast, Australia, while Birmingham is set to be the host for the 2022 Commonwealth games.
On trade, the Commonwealth does not have multi-lateral trade agreements.
Trade, for instance, is on average 19 percent cheaper between Commonwealth countries due to similarities in legal systems and language.
As a result, research by the Royal Commonwealth Society has shown that trade with another Commonwealth member is up to 50 percent more than with a non-member on average, with smaller and less wealthy states having a higher propensity to trade within the Commonwealth.
Brexit and the Zimbabwe factor
The Commonwealth nations met in London at a crucial time for the host nation.
With just one year until the UK begins its exit from the European Union (EU), new agreements need to be struck and important arrangements made.
While Brexit was not on the formal agenda at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, it was no coincidence that the UK chose to host the summit for the first time in 20 years.
Commonwealth countries will replace the EU as the UK’s major trading partners.
For prominent ‘Leave’ campaigners, the Commonwealth was a key symbol of the economic opportunities that lay outside the EU.
They claimed the EU was limiting the UK’s ability to trade with countries outside the bloc and predicted great deals with some of the country’s 52 Commonwealth partners, spanning the globe from North America to Africa and Asia.
However, back to Zimbabwe: Does Britain need Zimbabwe now more than ever?
When asked by a diplomat at a party what her birthday wish was for this year, Queen Elizabeth II replied: “Zimbabwe rejoin the Commonwealth.”
Could the Queen not wish for something better considering the world’s poverty and conflicts?
This group of former British colonies has long been an entity close to the monarch’s heart and she was known to be upset when Zimbabwe pulled out of the organisation in 2003.
How could she not, when her peas, green beans and lettuce (much of the Queen’s fresh vegetables) would fly everyday from Kondozi Farm in Odzi, Manicaland to the Buckingham Palace in London.
Much of the UK’s interest in the Commonwealth relates to securing free trade agreements with priority partners after Brexit.
Thus, the UK has used the recently held Commonwealth meeting to reinforce a positive message about the potential alliances that await ‘Global Britain’ outside the EU.
With 48 percent of the world’s strategic mineral resources, Zimbabwe has significant reserves of platinum, diamonds, gold, coal, platinum, lithium, copper, gas, nickel and tin, including numerous metallic and non-metallic ores.
It has also been confirmed deposits of diamonds, platinum and lithium are among the biggest in the world.
About 60 percent of the land in Zimbabwe has gold deposits underneath.
Deposits of uranium were also discovered in the country in 2005.
No doubt Britain needs these strategic minerals and resources.
Zimbabwe’s main agricultural products, on the other hand, are maize, cotton, tobacco, wheat, sugarcane, peanuts, horticultural produce, sheep, cattle, goats and pigs.
Britain will need these in coming months as it hashes out plans on how to feed its people.
About 75 percent of Brits’ food was from the EU.
To match the symbolic importance of the Commonwealth to the UK government’s wider vision for its place in the world, the meeting had an ambitious and optimistic agenda.
The Commonwealth has for long been dying to have Zimbabwe back in the club.
Zimbabwe has come up for debate at every CHOGM.
At its CHOGM Perth, Australia, meeting in 2011, Heads of Government agreed to look forward to the conditions being created for the return of Zimbabwe to the Commonwealth.
“Zimbabwe has a special place in the history of the modern Commonwealth and, as our Heads of Government have said, we hope the conditions can be created for Zimbabwe to return to the Commonwealth family,” said Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Baroness Sayeeda Hussain Warsi.
The club has since the Perth meeting been making frantic efforts to get Zimbabwe back in the group.
It has been hard at work on what it terms, a ‘Special Programme for Zimbabwe’, a multi-million-dollar aid package meant for technical assistance in education, health and capacity building.
“As a former member country, Zimbabwe and its citizens remain very much in the Commonwealth’s thoughts and indeed, since the withdrawal, the secretary-general has consistently engaged with Commonwealth leaders, especially within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) on the situation in Zimbabwe,” said Commonwealth director of communications and public affairs, Eduardo del Buey in 2015.
Furthermore, in May 2016, Commonwealth Games organisers cleared Zimbabwe to participate in the current running Commonwealth Games.
“Zimbabwe is welcome to participate in the Commonwealth games which will be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in July,” said one of the organisers, Janet Harkness.
That’s how important Zimbabwe is to the Commonwealth, most outstandingly to Britain itself.
As the new dispensation re-engages the Commonwealth, it must be noted that Zimbabwe is open for entry into the club, but not as beggars.
The relations should move away from the historical ‘horse and rider’ platform.
It should be on a win-win basis otherwise, whose ‘common wealth’ are we talking about?


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