Tag Archives: British Commonwealth

IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT!

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According to the BBC’s website:   “Almost all of Australia’s state and territory leaders have signed a document in support of the country becoming a republic.”

This follows republican Malcolm Turnbull replacing monarchist Tony Abbot as prime minister of Australia.   Both men are Liberals.  The Liberal Party in Australia is actually the nation’s conservative party.  Mr. Turnbull feels that this is not the time for a republic – it would be best to wait until the Queen’s reign ends.

Elizabeth II has been Queen of Australia for more than half the country’s existence as an independent nation.   Nobody speaks ill of the Queen, who has been a conscientious monarch, serving the country well.   But Australia has changed in the fifty years since the queen’s first Australian prime minister, Sir Robert Menzies, was in charge.   Sir Robert was an ardent monarchist who attended the coronation of the monarch in 1953.

At the time, Sir Winston Churchill was the British prime minister.  When the nine Commonwealth prime ministers met for their bi-annual conference, they spent a great deal of their time discussing defense matters.   The Korean War was ending and there were serious threats to the British Empire in Egypt, where the new radical government of Gamal Abdul Nasser wanted to gain control of the Suez Canal, a move that would later deal a fatal blow to the whole idea of empire.

Today, the Commonwealth has 53 members, almost all of whom are non-white and mostly have different ideals and priorities to the mother country.

Trade ties have declined with Britain’s industrial decline.  Australia now has closer ties with Asia than with Britain.

Demographic trends also mean that there are less people of British descent in Australia.

It’s interesting to note that the new Canadian prime minister feels very differently to Mr. Turnbull.  In December, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was in Malta for the latest Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.   The BBC asked him if he had any plans to make Canada a republic, something his father favored when he was PM.  Justin Trudeau, thirty years later, replied:  “No, we are very happy with our Queen, the Queen of Canada.”   Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Party is a left-wing party, so very different from Mr. Turnbull’s Liberal Party.

Why the difference in attitudes toward the Crown?

I suspect the answer lies in the word “identity.”

Canada was founded by Loyalists who did not want to be a part of the new American Republic after the American Revolution.   They asked for independence in 1864 while the US was fighting a Civil War.  They did not think much of the American form of government, adopting a system more in line with Great Britain.   They wanted to retain the British Head of State, Queen Victoria, as their own monarch.   They laid the foundation of the Commonwealth.  Australia, New Zealand and South Africa followed their example.   These nations were the mainstays of the British Commonwealth until after World War II, when India, Pakistan and Ceylon joined the club.

Canada’s identity, dwarfed by its more powerful southern neighbor, is bound up in the monarchy.   It needs to retain the link in order to maintain its sovereignty, separate and distinct from the United States.

The same dynamics do not apply in Australia, though a case can certainly be made for preserving Australia’s distinctly unique way of life, separate from other nations in the region.  The link with the Crown is a part of Australia’s cultural heritage, which sets it apart from most other countries in the region.

magazine has been in favor of an Australian republic ever since the issue was first raised, describing the queen as “Elizabeth the Last.” But even The Economist admits that it will lead to ten years of political instability, as the ripple effects will require a number of constitutional changes.   Perhaps now is not a good time to change the system.

It should also be pointed out that, approximately half the population remains very loyal to the monarchy, so any change could be divisive.

Interestingly, whereas many Australians who favor a republic would prefer the US system, it’s not likely to happen.   Politicians prefer the German or Irish system, replacing the Queen with a figurehead president appointed by parliament.   This is not a very good system.   While the monarch is above politics, any political appointee inevitably won’t be.   It should also be remembered that, when the German president, Paul von Hindenburg, died in office, the new Chancellor did away with the office and had himself proclaimed Fuhrer.   The rest, as they say, is history!

It’s also interesting to note that the Toronto based organization “Democracy Watch” recently listed the seven most democratic countries in the world.   All were constitutional monarchies, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand.   The United States was not in the top seven.   Sadly, America has become less democratic in recent decades, as big business together with lobbyists seem to determine everything in politics.   Add to that the influence of the media – elections are increasingly just personality contests.  Reality TV has taken over.

An additional factor for Australia to consider is that constitutional monarchy is the cheapest political system.

Christians should also remember I Peter 2:17 – “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the king.”

It might be good for everyone to ponder on the old maxim:   “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

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MANDELA — A BRIGHT LIGHT ON A DARK CONTINENT

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The news of the death of the former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, came as I was preparing to write an article on Central Africa.  This month marks the 50th anniversary of the dissolution of the Central African Federation, a short-lived experiment in multiculturalism that brought incredible development to the center of the continent in a short period of time.  The federation was more formally known as the “Federation of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland.”  Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi) were the three constituent parts.

When you visit any of these countries today, you will find the main roads were built at this time, as was Kariba Dam.  The federation was largely financed by the white settlers in Southern Rhodesia, who had made their country an African success story.

The Encyclopedia Britannica has this to say on the origins of the federation.  “After World War II, the growth of secondary industries and greatly increased white immigration in Southern Rhodesia, compounded by the copper boom in Northern Rhodesia, led white political leaders and industrialists to urge even more strongly the advantages of an amalgamated territory that would provide larger markets and be able to draw more freely on black labor, especially in Nyasaland.”

Apart from the economic arguments, there were also political reasons for federation.   In 1948, the Nationalist Party came to power in South Africa, then a British dominion like Canada and Australia.  The new government introduced separate development (apartheid), the strict separation of the races.  Britain was concerned about losing influence in the region as the Nationalists were generally anti-British – some had been pro-Nazi during World War II.  The British also wanted to show there was an alternative to separate development.

The federation brought together two British colonies, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, together with the self-governing colony of Southern Rhodesia, a territory that had never been ruled directly from London.  Britain’s hope was to show that a multiracial state based on cooperation between the races was far better than the neighboring South African model.  The first Prime Minister of the Federation was Sir Godfrey Huggins, earlier the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia.  When he stepped down in 1956, he was the longest serving prime minister in the history of the British Commonwealth.

However, the federation made the whites in Southern Rhodesia richer and more influential.  Black African nationalists stirred up sentiment against it.  The Colonial Office in London, always sympathetic to African nationalist demands, decided to disband the union, giving both Malawi and Zambia independence in 1964.  The whites in Southern Rhodesia voted to disassociate themselves from Britain (UDI), but 15 years later were forced to hand over power.

Economically, there is no doubt that the federation was a good thing and achieved a great deal.  This was the decade of the greatest economic expansion in Central Africa.

In stark contrast, independence led to dictatorship, socialism and economic decline.

All three countries had the same president for three decades.  Malawi’s Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda led his country from independence until 1994; Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda from independence until 1991; Zimbabwe, under Robert Mugabe, from independence in 1980 right up until the present.  The Westminster style parliamentary systems that the British had in place in the three territories during the colonial era did not survive independence, each country sliding into dictatorship.  Zambia and Zimbabwe also embraced socialism.  Zambia has since seen the light, but Zimbabwe remains in darkness.

The multicultural ideal was dead in Central Africa and the three component parts have suffered because of it.

It was not to be realized again until the end of apartheid and the first black African government in South Africa, led by Nelson Mandela.  Mr. Mandela only served one term, previously unheard of in Africa.  As a leader, he was a light on the Dark Continent, standing out over all other post-colonial rulers.  “What is the future of South Africa?” asked former US Secretary of State James Baker on CBS this morning.  He added:  “I think a lot of the groundwork has been laid by Nelson Mandela.”

It is misleading to say, as was said on CBS this morning, that “Mandela spent 27 years in prison because he fought against apartheid.”  Many people opposed apartheid but did not go to prison.  Helen Suzman, a prominent member of parliament, comes first to mind.  Mr. Mandela was, in fact, imprisoned for acts of sabotage.  Today he would be called a terrorist.  Violently opposed to apartheid, many whites now see him as the one who saved them and the country from a bloodbath when the white minority handed over power.  He was the only one who could pull the transition off successfully.  For this, South Africans of all races are mostly grateful.

For a long time, many whites have expressed fears for their future in the post-Mandela era.

The whites have the skills the country needs for further prosperity.  They also pay most of the taxes, without which social programs to help the poorest members of society would not be possible.  The countries of the Central African Federation learned the hard way the negative consequences of driving the whites out.  Hopefully, South Africa will not make the same mistake and Mandela’s “rainbow nation,” a multicultural country made up of various races, will succeed.

Thinking has changed, even in the West.  Socialists in England in the 1950’s were advocates of decolonization.  One point repeatedly made was that, in Northern Rhodesia, whites were paid on average seven times what black Africans were paid;  today, after five decades of independence, the ratio is 28 to 1.  Whites no longer want to settle in central Africa.  They would rather go out on contracts and want big money to take what they consider are big risks, hence the greater pay differential.  If South Africa can keep the white settlers, the country will continue to prosper.

Interestingly, Zambia is now encouraging white farmers to settle, granting them 99 -year leases on land.  Food production doubled with the first hundred farmers, bringing down food prices and strengthening the currency.  Zambia benefitted from Zimbabwe’s expropriation of white farmland.

The handover to majority rule in South Africa took place in 1994.  By that time, the country had had the opportunity to see the disaster that had befallen many nations to the north.  Whereas Zimbabwe’s post-independence leader, Robert Mugabe, reverted to his radical revolutionary agenda after gaining power, Mandela gave an assurance right at the beginning that South Africa would be a democracy and would have a free enterprise system.  So far, it’s worked.

We will soon know whether it will continue to work in the post-Mandela era.