WHY AFRICANS SHOULD RETHINK THEIR COMMONWEALTH SUBSCRIPTION
Saturday/Sunday, December 8, 2007.
By Ronald Elly Wanda
Since the statute of Westminster that stipulated the formation of the Commonwealth in 1931, the purposes; benefits, representations and agency as well as the so called ‘rewards’ of the union have remained issues of contestations. This year’s Commonwealth’s Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in Kampala, Uganda, rekindles this interest.
Every two years, 53 heads of states belonging to a voluntary union known as the Commonwealth, (that lacks an official charter or a written constitution), gather at lavish hotels that money can buy, in former and current British colonies. Their aim is the discussing of “common interests,” which often do not feature or entertain the needs of the most important person of all – the ‘common man’.
As a Commonwealth citizen, the common man, (petty bourgeoisies’ and political elites asides), accounts for almost 30 percent of the total global population. Of the 1.8 billion Commonwealth residents, almost half continue to live below the poverty line, which the UN defines as living on less than a dollar a day.
At the same time, two thirds of the world’s HIV/AIDS cases and maternal deaths take place in countries subscribed to the Commonwealth, where it is also noted that more than half of the world’s 115 million children without education are to be found.
This year, Uganda, according to the country’s foreign affairs minister, Sam Kutesa, is “blessed to be hosting the CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) and in particular, welcoming her majesty Queen Elizabeth of England”, who is also head of the union.
In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni’s ruling party, the National Resistance Organisation (NRMO) since coming to power in 1986, has devised a strategy to distance itself explicitly from pro-mwanainchi (citizen) policies that promote social and economically redistributive justice, each and every time it has been made aware of capital mobility.
The government’s handling of CHOGM preparations is a case in illustration. NRMO leaders have reoriented party policies towards the interests of any ‘real’ or imagined mobile fraction of capital, yet again at the expense of the hardworking Ugandan mwanainchi.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sam Kutesa, said that 65 billion Uganda shillings were allocated for CHOGM activities for this financial year in addition to Ush37b for completion of State House. The meeting, according the government, is expected to attract around 3,000 to 5,000 visitors to Uganda and is expected to cost the poor Ugandan tax payer around millions of American dollars.
It is abundantly clear, especially for those who live in Uganda that times are increasingly hard for wanainchi (the common man), the majority of whom, exist on the periphery of an international economy that is staggering under the afflictions of a prolonged recession- recently demonstrated by the ongoing collapse of the American mortgage industry.
Is it not surely time for us to start questioning the viability of the Commonwealth given the negative historical facts that it represents?
The union is an amalgamation of former as well as present British colonies, and as such is representative of the British Empire. As Africans are, or ought to be too aware, we suffered and continue to suffer a great deal of pain caused by the plights of; slavery, then imperialism, colonialism, globalization and now commonwealthisation.
All of these planks were dedicated to the sole objective of the brutal extraction of Africa’s wealth to Britain and at the same time the erosion of the African human dignity.
So, as today’s local imperial agents -President Museveni and his regiment entertained her majesty and “friends of Uganda” to the best of what the pearl of Africa has to offer, isn’t it high time we questioned the essence and representation of this imperialist institution?
We need to look with suspicion at imperialist agents such as Museveni- the so called “darling of the west” for their real motivation in promoting anti-wanainchi and neo-liberal agenda at the expense of the common man in Uganda under the auspices of privatization, structural adjustment, market liberalization and foreign direct investment. All of which have harmed and continue to subject the common man in Uganda in abject poverty, whilst the Ugandan government posits its fictitious and impact-less 6.4 percent economic growth.
Uganda is capable of attracting foreign direct investment that has no colonial strings attached to it, China et al is one such example. That said, the rapid integration and enlargement of the East African Community ought to be a lauded affair not only for the countries concerned but for the whole of Africa, because it is the hard but necessary beginning for the unification of a sustainable Africa.
From this connection, it is thus foreseeable that cultural imperialism perpetuated by Britain and culminated by its agents through the Commonwealth project will be a thing of the past.
The Commonwealth has served only one primary purpose, that of presenting Britain as structurally superior and continuing the exploitation and extraction of the common man’s wealth to Britain. It is high time we valued the real common man by doing away with this demeaning institution.
The writer is a political scientist based in London.
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