Commonwealth countries meet in Rwanda: what to expect | News

The summit comes amid soured relations between Rwanda and DR Congo, which have sparked decades of hostility.

Heads of government from Commonwealth countries will meet Friday and Saturday in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, to address challenges from climate change and poverty to the food security crisis caused by the war in Ukraine.

Here are some key facts about the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and the Kigali Summit, which was scheduled to take place in 2020 but was postponed twice due to the COVID pandemic.

What is the Commonwealth?

It is a voluntary association of 54 countries that gradually evolved from the British Empire and has existed in its modern form since 1949.

Who are the members?

  • The Commonwealth includes 13 countries in the Caribbean and Americas, 19 countries in Africa, three in Europe, eight in Asia and 11 in the Pacific.
  • It has a combined population of 2.5 billion.
  • India accounts for 1.4 billion of its citizens while 32 members have a population of 1.5 million or less, the smallest being Nauru which has 10,000 inhabitants.

Are they all former British colonies?

  • Most do, but that is not a requirement for membership. The last two countries to join, Rwanda and Mozambique, have no historical ties to the British Empire.
  • Gabon and Togo, both former French colonies, are expected to apply to participate in the Kigali summit.

What does the Commonwealth do?

  • It presents itself as a network for cooperation on common goals such as protecting the environment, boosting trade, supporting democracy, promoting education and gender equality, and giving small states a louder voice on the world stage.
  • While not a free trade zone, based on an analysis of World Bank data, it calculates that it is 21 percent cheaper for its members to trade with other members than with non-commonwealth countries that are a similar distance away. Factors include a common language and similar legal and commercial frameworks.

Who runs it?

  • Queen Elizabeth II has been the head of the Commonwealth, a largely symbolic role, since her reign began in 1952.
  • The organization says the British monarch is not automatically its head, but members nevertheless agreed at a meeting in London in 2018 that Elizabeth’s son Prince Charles would succeed her in the role. Charles attends the Kigali Summit, representing his mother.
Charles, Prince of Wales, attends a Commonwealth Business Forum exhibition at the Kigali Cultural Village during a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kigali, Rwanda [Ian Vogler/Reuters]

Who runs it?

  • It has a secretariat in London and a secretary general, currently Dominica native Patricia Scotland.
  • Commonwealth leaders will decide in Kigali whether to reappoint her for a second term or replace her with Kamina Johnson Smith, Jamaica’s foreign minister. Britain has criticized Scotland’s leadership and supports Johnson Smith, as have India and Belize.

Who attends the Kigali Summit?

  • Most Commonwealth government leaders will be in attendance, including Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, Britain’s Boris Johnson and Canada’s Justin Trudeau.
  • But Cyril Ramaphosa from South Africa, Narendra Modi from India, Shehbaz Sharif from Pakistan, Anthony Albanese from Australia and Jacinda Ardern from New Zealand are not expected, raising questions about the organisation’s relevance to those countries.
  • A few countries such as Zimbabwe have left the alliance or have indicated that they want to leave it. Others, such as the Gambia, Pakistan and the Maldives, have left before but have rejoined the body.

What is likely to be discussed?

  • Leaders are expected to discuss soured relations between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo since May, as rebel groups — whom Kinshasa accuses Kigali of supporting — have launched their most sustained offensive in a decade. On Monday, Kenya announced the deployment of East African Community regional forces in the DRC to stem the violence.
  • Climate action will also be on the agenda as climate change remains a major concern for the bloc. Recent weather events and longer-term climate trends, including heat waves, extreme temperatures, droughts, cyclones, floods and rising sea levels, affect most Member States.
  • Trade between Member States, a recurring topic of discussion, will also be included.
  • The upcoming presidential elections in Kenya, scheduled for August 9, are also expected to be discussed.

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