It’s only a few days since Gambia announced it was leaving the Commonwealth; now the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has said he will not attend the bi-annual gathering of Commonwealth Heads of Government in Sri Lanka next month. Canada is protesting Sri Lanka’s human rights record.
Perhaps of greater concern is that Canada will no longer help finance the organization. As the 53-member club of former British colonies is largely financed by Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, this could be a major set-back.
The Commonwealth is a mini-United Nations. Like the UN, it has always had its divisions. Well, since World War, anyway. Prior to 1939, the organization was made up of Britain and the “white dominions”, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Newfoundland and the self-governing colony of Southern Rhodesia.
These nations all shared the same values and shared a common allegiance to the Crown. They often acted in unison in international conflicts, notably the two world wars.
After World War II, Britain started dismantling its empire. In August 1947, India and Pakistan received independence, as “Dominions,” meaning they, too, owed allegiance to the Crown. But, at a Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ conference in 1949, India announced its intention to sever the direct tie to the crown and become a republic. The monarch was replaced as head of state by a figurehead president.
Later, African countries gained independence and opted for an executive president system. Most of these countries became dictatorships.
With the dictatorship came abuses of human rights and suppression of press freedom, two basic Commonwealth values.
Division within the organization soon became the norm.
Although Queen Elizabeth remains Head of the Commonwealth, the organization is no longer united. It is irrelevant as a military force.
It is merely a shadow of what it was in the first half of the twentieth century.