Last Friday, the curtain for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2022 that took place from 20-25 June 2022 in Kigali, Rwanda, was drawn. The week-long programme was attended by over 50 heads of government and joined by business, philanthropy, royal and civil society leaders.
The convergence, themed ‘Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming’ is all to one end – reaffirm shared values and agree on actions and policies to improve the lives of all Commonwealth citizens.
What is the Commonwealth?
The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 member states, the vast majority of which are former territories of the British Empire. The Commonwealth includes countries from both advanced and developed economies. Leaders of Commonwealth countries meet every two years for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), hosted by different member countries on a rotational basis. Since 1971, 24 meetings have been held, with the most recent being in the UK in 2018. Major takeaways from the meeting for Africans are:
Gabon and Togo are now Commonwealth members
The Commonwealth admitted Gabon and Togo as its 55th and 56th members. Notably, neither country has a historic association with the Commonwealth, with both gaining independence from France in the 1960s. When the queen became head of the Commonwealth in 1949, the body had only eight (8) member countries. Seventy-three years later, the Commonwealth nations are now 56. There used to be nineteen Commonwealth member states in Africa, and Rwanda was the last country to join the Commonwealth in 2009.
The membership would help these countries access new export markets, open the economic door to 2.5 billion consumers in the Commonwealth realm, fund development projects, and enable their citizens to learn English and access new educational and cultural resources.
The eligibility criteria for Commonwealth membership include that an applicant country should demonstrate commitment to democracy and its many qualities (free and fair elections, the rule of law and independence of the judiciary, protection of human rights). But, the admission of Gabon and Togo could raise questions as both countries have been under dynastic rule for over half a century, and elections have been impaired by irregularities, violence, and allegations of fraud.
Commonwealth renews commitments to end Malaria and NTDs.
In reinforcing the commitments to eliminate Malaria and NTDs by 2030, Commonwealth leaders pledged over $4 billion in new funding, and pharmaceutical companies donated 18 billion tablets.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately half of the world’s population is at risk of Malaria, but its prevalence is disproportionate. Africa is the most affected due to factors like local weather conditions that often allow the transmission to occur year-round, scarce resources, and socio-economic instability that has hindered efficient malaria control activities.
In 2020, Malaria caused an estimated 241 million clinical episodes and 627,000 deaths. Of these deaths, 95 per cent were in the WHO African region. Malaria costs society in many ways. Not less than $12 billion is incurred in direct cost (illness, treatment, premature death) yearly.
Similarly, NTDs – most commonly affecting some of the world’s most vulnerable people are endemic in forty-six of the Commonwealth’s fifty-four countries, thereby representing two-thirds of the global burden.
Progress against Malaria and NTDs has stalled in recent years and even reversed in some countries due to paucity of funding, teeming population, and the Coronavirus pandemic. The Commonwealth pledge will again serve as a sustainable way to combat these health deficiencies.
Commonwealth adopts ‘Living Lands Charter’
Commonwealth members have agreed to dedicate a ‘living land’ in their respective countries to future generations, in line with the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The Living Land Charter mandates all 54 member countries to safeguard global land resources while taking coordinated action on climate change, biodiversity loss and sustainable land management.
This would reinforce commitment under the Paris Agreement to keep the rise in global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
This charter is of numerous benefits to the African continent, which bears the brunt of the adverse effects of climate change. Also, a Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub assists developing country members with human and institutional capacity to mobilise climate finance for enhanced climate action, including through the development of bankable projects and robust climate policies, etcetera.
Two African countries to lead Commonwealth action on clean energy
The Governments of Kenya and Eswatini have stepped forward to champion action on geothermal energy and energy literacy as part of the Commonwealth Sustainable Energy Transition (CSET) Agenda.
The CSET Agenda is the Commonwealth flagship for accelerating the global energy transition. According to the Commonwealth, Kenya and Eswatini will lead in forming voluntary coalitions of member states willing to work together to develop strategies on geothermal energy and literacy.
Currently, four Commonwealth member countries have installed geothermal energy. New Zealand and Kenya have the highest installed capacity at 984 MW and 823.8 MW, respectively, followed by Papua New Guinea (56 MW) and Australia (0.31 MW).
However, there is great potential for its development in the Commonwealth, particularly in geothermal resource-rich countries such as Canada, Dominica, St Lucia, St Vincent, St Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean and the Americas; Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda in East Africa; and Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands in the Pacific.
The Action Group on Energy Literacy will share information, know-how, and best practices and collaborate to promote energy literacy amongst children, young people, local communities, and other relevant stakeholders. Countries such as Malta, Ghana, Seychelles and Sri Lanka have already signed up to join the Action Group.