Recalling CHOGM 1979 in Lusaka, High Commissioner for Zambia Muyeba Shichapwa Chikonde says the organisation is a catalyst for shared prosperity
I HAVE FOND MEMORIES of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s royal visit to Lusaka, Zambiafor the fifth Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 1979. I was at junior secondary school, and like many of my contemporaries and elders, the visit left lasting impressions. In fact, the build up to the visit was equally impactful given our involvement in the preparations along with other students, youth groups and cultural ensembles. This was at the height of liberation wars in most of our neighbouring countries.
It was at that meeting that Commonwealth Heads of Government issued the landmark Lusaka Declaration on Racism and Racial Prejudice, building on the 1971 Singapore Declaration, which laid out the first political, social, and economic membership criteria for the Commonwealth. These values still form the cornerstone of the organisation today.
Commentators who wrote on the Lusaka meeting observed that the ‘retreat’ where Heads of Governments mingled without their aids in an informal setting was an effective way of managing the dynamism of the organisation that was mainly driven by consensus. Therein lies the uniqueness of the Commonwealth. The meeting is remembered by many to have led to the birth and independence of Zimbabwefollowing the Lancaster House Agreement. The summit also demonstrated that the Commonwealth was an organisation that had the capacity to influence our world for the better.
Clearly, the Lusaka CHOGM helped to reinforce Zambia’s Commonwealth connection, rooted in the shared history of British involvement in Africa, through the world wars and beyond independence. Today, English-speaking Zambia’s political and legal systems are closely based on the British models, and historical links are cemented by continued UK involvement in the country mainly in trade and investment.
A member of the Commonwealth family since 1964, Zambia’s land-linked geographical position surrounded by eight neighbours, (five of which are Commonwealth nations), is adeptly and uniquely poised to fervently support the call for greater regional integration and intra-Commonwealth trade.
With duty-free access to the Southern African Development Community and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, Zambia’s Commonwealth regional trade connections extend beyond its southern borders to the Great Lakes and East African Community and part of West Africa, ultimately forming the largest web of land-linked Commonwealth nations. When the islands of Mauritiusand Seychellesare included, this cluster of 18 nations represents 35 per cent of Commonwealth countries, yet their contribution to overall Commonwealth trade is below 10 per cent – according to the Commonwealth Trade Review report for 2015. The fact that the cluster already belongs to the vast network of Commonwealth nations spread over every continent is an added advantage. The so-called ‘Commonwealth advantage’ sees trade among Commonwealth countries average 20 per cent higher and generate on average 10 per cent more foreign direct investment and costs on average 19 per cent less than bilateral trade with non-Commonwealth countries.
In the context of Commonwealth Africa, the ingredients to demonstrate that the ‘Commonwealth Advantage’ enhances economic prosperity for the greater good of the Commonwealth family and the continent are all there. Blessed with abundant natural resources, being among the fastest growing economies globally, and having a common (international) language, institutions, legal and accounting systems, along with short distances to regional trade markets, all reinforce this view.
The 2018 CHOGM provides a unique opportunity to explore methods of strengthening the framework for Commonwealth citizens to engage and interact more closely. This is particularly important in addressing the common challenges that face member states such as empowering women and promoting of girls’ rights and skills for the youth who constitute over 60 per cent of the Commonwealth family.
I am therefore optimistic that CHOGM 2018 will address several challenging issues, such as member countries renewing their commitment to Commonwealth values as prescribed in the Commonwealth Charter with a focus on prosperity, fairness, security and sustainability. Significantly, the Summit will provide the opportunity for all member states to embrace the ‘Commonwealth Advantage’ as a catalyst for shared prosperity.