Friday, 25 December 2009

Living In The Winter Wonderland: A Response To Her Majesty’s 2009 Christmas Message

This year’s Christmas Message of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth 11, by the Grace of God, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and the Northern Ireland, Her other Realms and Territories and the Head of the Commonwealth is interesting in two aspects. Firstly, she used the medium to formally eulogise the courage of over 13 thousand service men and women from various nations presently serving in Afghanistan. Secondly, she called upon the young people in the member nations of the Commonwealth of Nations to pull their resources together towards making the Commonwealth a practical force for good to be reckoned with in the world of today.

Her Majesty was of the opinion that the Commonwealth with over 1 billion people under the age of 25 could be a very strong force especially in this information and technology age towards realising the dreams and aspirations of the organisation. In making that call, Her Majesty was obviously counting on the powers of the young people and her belief that the young people are the leaders and change agents for a better tomorrow. It is therefore highly commendable that in this age when young people are daily being demonised as the root cause of all evils including armed robbery and murder, the Queen still has faith and hope in them. She has my highest respect for this.

The Commonwealth of Nations often called the Commonwealth is an association of the former colonies of the then British Empire. However in the recent past, the Commonwealth have seen the admission of some countries that had no colonial link with the defunct Empire. Rwanda and Mozambique are two examples. The member states co-operate within a framework of common values and goals as outlined in the Singapore Declaration of the organisation. These values and goals include the promotion of democracy, human rights, good governance, rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multilateralism and world peace. The Commonwealth is not a political union, but an intergovernmental organisation through which countries with diverse social, political and economic backgrounds are regarded as equal in status.

The Commonwealth is made up of 54 countries including one currently suspended member. Of course that is Zimbabwe. Member nations are spread across the six continents. The members have a combined population of about 2.1 billion people, almost a third of the world population, of which 1.17 billion live in India alone while 94% live in Asia and Africa combined. After India the next largest Commonwealth countries by population are Pakistan (176 million), Bangladesh (156 million), the Republic of Nigeria (145 million), the United Kingdom (61 million) and the Republic of South Africa (49 million). Tuvalu is the smallest member with only 12,000 people. Majority of the citizens of the Commonwealth are young people under the age of 25 and these are the people Her Majesty is addressing in this year’s edition of her annual Christmas message.

According to Her Majesty, “It is 60 years since the Commonwealth was created and today, with more than a billion of its members under the age of 25, the organisation remains a strong and practical force for good. Recently, I attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad and Tobago and heard how important the Commonwealth is to young people. New communication technologies allow them to reach out to the wider world and share their experiences and viewpoints. For many, the practical assistance and networks of the Commonwealth can give skills, lend advice and encourage enterprise. It is inspiring to learn of some of the work being done by these young people, who bring creativity and innovation to the challenges they face”.

As noted at the outset, Her Majesty’s speech is very interesting and part of the reason is simply because of the fact that her speech actually reflected in its entirety the veracity of the fact that she is no more living in this age with all of us and certainly never with the rest of other young people in the Commonwealth. I do not intend to offend Her Majesty but from the colour of her speech, it is apparent that she is no more in touch with what the Commonwealth stands for today and I do not have a doubt that her understanding of the Commonwealth is still at either the colonial or pre-independence level. If Her Majesty had been briefed well and actually taught what the Commonwealth means today for those under the age of 25 he cited as an example, then she should not have included that part of the message in this year’s edition of her message.

The summary of the fact is that the Commonwealth is not fit for purpose. It is no more relevant. It is very archaic in both principles and mission. It is completely out of touch with the aspirations and dreams of billions of young people under the age of 25 years in the organisation. In fact to them and even to me as a young member of the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth represents an institution of oppression and elitism and for majority of the young people from the African member states, it is a club for the African leaders and their children to reap the fruit of the Commonwealth, leaving the rest of us as spectators.

Apart from the obvious sports advantage of the Commonwealth, there is no other aspect of the Commonwealth that is of benefit to the common people of the member states. Sports is a different ball game all together in the sense that here talents counts more than who you know and who you are connected to. Though there are some instances where square pegs in round holes are corruptly pushed to be participants in the game, majority of the sportsmen and women are actually selected based on performance, merit and ability. Based on this therefore one could eulogise the Queens’s Speech for eulogising the Commonwealth’s contribution to the well being and happiness of its members.

However, the Queen, as the leader of the Commonwealth maybe shocked that she is presiding over a monumental piece of corruption. This is especially true if she puts into consideration the grievances of the common people and common members of the Commonwealth, including myself. The truth is that majority of these common people do not know about the existence of the Commonwealth. They are complete strangers to the so called benefits of the Commonwealth. Since the establishment of the Commonwealth, these common people have been used by their leaders to actualise theirs and their cohort’s dreams. Member countries of the Commonwealth contribute financially to the upkeep of the organisation but majority of its members especially the common people are left out at the reaping stage of the so called benefits of the commonwealth.

One of the distinct features of the Commonwealth is the Commonwealth Scholarship Programme which affords commonwealth citizens the opportunity to study for free in any commonwealth member nation. Those interested in benefiting from this programme must apply from the Ministry of Education of their various countries and that is where the main problem lies because in the process the talented but poor and unconnected ones are left out because they do not have anybody either in the ministry or in the government to push their file. The result is that at the end of the day square pegs in round holes are fraudulently and corruptly selected and because they are not fit for the scholarship, they end up coming back home with myopic mind and contributing to the already worsened state in their various countries. I am therefore perplexed that the queen was busy in her speech eulogising the commonwealth and never made any statement on this issue.

Similar to the above is the Commonwealth Technical Exchange Programme which affords professionals from various Commonwealth countries the opportunity to use their expertise knowledge to contribute towards the development of a member nation. Just like in the scholarship method, professionals who are obviously talented, knowledgeable and fit for purpose are eventually left out of the selection process for the simple reason that there is no highly connected person to push their file for them. Against this background, one begins to ask if the queen is not in any way aware of the fact that this type of corruption is taking place in her backyard.

I am inclined to believe that the queen is being advised by her government to keep mute over these problems for the fear of offending the sensibility of the commonwealth member nations in question. The queen should begin to look at the Commonwealth from the angle of its common people and not from the angle of its corrupt leaders. She should be happy to please the common people and never their corrupt leaders. For instance, as the leader of the Commonwealth of which the State of Uganda is a member, we expect the queen by now to have made a concrete and strong statement on the ongoing homophobic bill conundrum in Uganda. She, as the leader of the Commonwealth and the Supreme Governor of the Anglican Communion should have been the first to have come out and condemn in clear terms the direction the State of Uganda is taking.

The queen cannot morally continue to praise and advocate the continued existence of the Commonwealth or even continue heading it ceremonially if she is afraid and unwilling to come out openly and condemn what is a clear violation of human rights and democracy principles. For the billions citizens of the commonwealth under the age of 25 she mentioned in her speech, their last hope is an institution like the Commonwealth and for the queen and institutions like the commonwealth therefore to continue keeping mute over human rights violations, is not only immoral but could as well mean that the relevance of the Commonwealth is frankly no more relevant in the 21st century.

The reason we joined the Commonwealth was to reap the fruits of being members of the organisation but because of the selfish interest of the member nations of the 60 year old organisation, the benefits are not being reaped. Citizens of the Commonwealth are required to visit member nations with a visa and that is very ridiculous bearing in mind that it should not have been the case due to the British bond uniting all of us. In fact for us the young members of the Commonwealth, it is absolutely ridiculous that despite this bond uniting all of us, we are still required to enter our member countries with a visa. That is very incomprehensible and politically unacceptable and it is one of the reasons why people like me would be in the forefront in the fight for the dissolution of the Commonwealth of Nations. People are members of the same family for closer ties and interactions, and if that ceases to be the case, then what is the relevance of still being part of the family?

Similar to the above scenario is the ridiculous situation where many commonwealth citizens ended up in the United Kingdom as illegal immigrants. The fact is that the Commonwealth was founded on the understanding that we are one by the virtue of our common heritage of being former colonies of the United Kingdom and subjects of Her Majesty. The understanding also is that wherever we are, we should be proud of that heritage but then the idea of coming to our root which is the United Kingdom not only to be told we are not welcomed but also to be branded as illegal immigrants is very heartbreaking and seems like another example of selfishness and subjugation by once a colonial master. The situation would never have existed if the United Kingdom citizens had ended up in other member states of the commonwealth as illegal immigrants. The United Kingdom would have started lecturing us with a learned lucubration about human rights and this and that and blahblahblah! This situation is therefore unacceptable. The commonwealth should be based on mutual understanding, gain and respect and somebody should please tell the queen this before she recites another message that glorifies injustice against the young people of the commonwealth.

Besides, citizens of the Commonwealth studying in various member nations of the Commonwealth are made to pay international fees as other foreign students and the question is why should they be paying as international students when they are members of the commonwealth? I hope the queen is aware of this? How many common people in the Commonwealth member nations could afford to pay almost 10 thousand pounds a year for graduate studies in the United Kingdom? The answer is virtually none and this lends credence to the fact that the commonwealth tactically supports corrupt leaders who loot public fund to send their children to the UK and elsewhere to study. This is absolutely ridiculous bearing in mind that commonwealth should be there for the masses and not for the elitists.

Against these backdrops, I strongly suggest that the leaders and member nations of the commonwealth should take a stock and consider seriously how much gains they make out of the Commonwealth and the relevance of continued membership and existence of the organisation.