The Commonwealth, formerly known as the British Commonwealth is the term used for the former British colonies and currently is the organisation of countries which at some point of time were the part of British Empire. But it is an irony that the first British colony Virgin Dare (1587) is not a part of Commonwealth but of USA. US was also a British Colony but got independence before the birth of the concept of Commonwealth. The history of the British colonies dates back to 16th century but the concept of Commonwealth emerged in 1884 and first such conference was held in 1926 as Imperial Conference. The acronym CHOGM for the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meet was for the first time used in 1971 in Singapore and the members signed the Singapore declaration. This Singapore declaration along with the Harare declaration outlined the core values and principles of the Commonwealth apart from detailing the membership criteria. The major values of the Commonwealth includes World Peace, support for United Nations, Individual liberty, Egalitarianism, opposition to racism, opposition to colonialism,, eradication of poverty, cooperation, multilateralism etc.
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Commonwealth and Developing Countries
British Empire was pervaded through all continents except Antarctica and therefore the members of commonwealth countries are from all hues. It had member countries from the environmentally rich Africa, G-8 member Canada is the member of Commonwealth, developed countries like Australia, New Zealand are its members, some of the fastest growing economies like India, Singapore are also members of Commonwealth, its member South Africa is the largest producer of the gold. But there is another aspect too where its members its members include one of the poorest countries of the world like Kenya, countries with worst socio economic indicators, countries lacking the real democracy like Myanmar, Pakistan etc. Thus we can see that the countries with the resources as well as the countries in the need of resources both are the members of Commonwealth. Thus commonwealth can be instrumental in the holistic development of its members. Canada’s health policy, India’s expertise in Information Technology and space can be exemplary for other nations. The combined GDP of the commonwealth is more than $10 trillion and it is home to around two third of the world population. Thus if the monetary and the human resources of the commonwealth are utilised to its potential, it can change the picture of its members.
Apart from the socio-economic developments, Commonwealth is also an important instrument to promote the values like democracy, liberty, equality etc. In the past, Myanmar, Pakistan, Zimbabwe had been suspended from the commonwealth for the denial of these values. On the international forums like WTO, Climate Change Conventions combined effort of Commonwealth can be helpful in attaining an amicable solution to the global problems.
Need to Strengthen Commonwealth
The commonwealth nations possess the resources, technology as well as will to usher the development in the member countries but still it is not able to stand up collectively as did the ASEAN, NAFTA, EU etc. The members of commonwealth are unable overlook the petty issues between themselves to fight for the broader issues. For instance, the temple dispute between Thailand and Cambodia doesn’t supersede the ASEAN summit but the issues between India and Pakistan always come up whenever they meet in an inter-government meeting like CHOGM or SAARC. The commonwealth nations must involve the bilateral issues in the multilateral meets if they are resolved to make the commonwealth a potential forum at international level. Though EU or ASEAN like commonwealth is still far from the reality but the members of commonwealth should take steps to strengthen the Commonwealth. For strengthening the Commonwealth, its more prominent members like UK, Canada, India should take initiatives and help to make Commonwealth reach its potential. Since UK and Canada already have en experience of the successful forums like G-8, EU, NAFTA, they must be proactive participants to make Commonwealth an active platform.
India and the Commonwealth
India joined the Commonwealth in 1947 and has been an active participant since then. Commonwealth can prove to be boon for India regarding its socio-economic, political as well as diplomatic problems. As far as diplomatic problems are concerned, India had some issue with almost its every neighbour and among its neighbours; Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are the members of Commonwealth. Though for the success of an international forum, the bilateral issues must be avoided but such forums may be utilised to bring thaw in the relations by collectively addressing the other major global problems. On socio economic fronts also, the close cooperation with other members should be established and thereby experience of other nations in ameliorating such problems can bring new solutions.
CHOGM 2011 meet was held in Perth, Australia in October 2011 under the theme ‘Building National Resilience, Building Global Resilience ’where the Heads reaffirmed their commitment to the values and principles of the Commonwealth and agreed to a series of actions to maintain the Commonwealth’s relevance, to ensure its effectiveness in responding to contemporary global challenges and to build resilient societies and economies. Given the significant challenges facing the global economy, Heads emphasised the importance of the international community working cooperatively to secure a sustainable global recovery. Heads highlighted the importance of a strong response to these challenges to provide the necessary confidence to global markets.
Apart From this, leaders agreed to Reform of the Commonwealth to ensure that it is a more effective institution, responsive to members’ needs, and capable of tackling the significant global challenges of the 21st century. To this end, they resolved to the reform of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) and strengthening of the management and delivery of Commonwealth programmes, including through regular review of their efficiency, effectiveness and results, against measurable indicators. Further, they agreed to actively promote, uphold, preserve and defend the fundamental values, principles and aspirations of the Commonwealth.
Realising the developmental needs of the member nations, the leaders at meet agreed to revitalise the Commonwealth’s development priorities to ensure that it effectively articulates and meets the development needs of member states today and in the future. To this end, they agreed to promote inclusive education and to accelerate efforts to achieve quality universal primary education, in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Thus the CHOGM 2011 summit once again reiterated the resolve of the members to make commonwealth an active intergovernmental organisation and not just a debate club. CHOGM is different from other regional forums as its presence is found in all the continents except Antarctica and countries are joined by similar language i.e. English. Since the members of CHOGM include the underdeveloped, developing as well as developed countries, it must work actively to bridge the internal north –south divide, curb the inequalities and put an example for the rest of the world.
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