Jo Lomas and Steve Vemunavi Katjiuanjo
As the Commonwealth flag flutters in 52 countries today to mark Commonwealth Day, Namibia and the UK are delighted to celebrate another year of Commonwealth links and values.
But what is the Commonwealth and why is it relevant today?
The Commonwealth is in fact a very unique organisation. It’s a voluntary association of 52 countries that support each other and work together towards shared goals in democracy and development. The world’s largest and smallest, richest and poorest countries are members of the Commonwealth, which is home to two billion citizens of all faiths and ethnicities – over half of whom are 25 or under.
For many of its members, joining the Commonwealth highlighted their newfound status of independence and equal partnership. The emphasis on equality has helped the association to play leading roles in decolonisation, combating racism and advancing sustainable development in poor countries. Today each country, large or small, continues to have an equal voice in the Commonwealth community.
The Commonwealth is above all a value-based organisation. It’s known as a global opponent of racism, a promoter of democracy and good governance, an advocate of human rights and gender equality, a champion of small countries and participation of young people and a determined negotiator in working towards global economic systems, which give a fairer deal to the poor.
This focus on values and the ability to (voluntarily) hold each other to account is not just words. Let’s look at the benefits In Sub-Saharan Africa. Eight of the top 10 countries in SSA (including Namibia) with the lowest levels of corruption are Commonwealth members, according to the Corruption Perceptions Index.
Seven of the top 10 countries (including Namibia) in the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, are Commonwealth members. Seven of the top 10 countries (including Namibia) for gender equality in Sub-Saharan Africa are Commonwealth countries, according to World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2015.
And there is practical support to Commonwealth countries too from a range of Commonwealth organisation and bodies within which Namibia is playing a very enthusiast role.
To pick just a few, the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation (CFTC) has assisted the Namibian government in developing an aquaculture sector, provided assistance in mining sector reform, energy sector reform, and helped in developing the renewable energy policy.
Other support was undertaken in the sectors of local government reform, human resource planning, public financial management standards and strengthening of the Magistrates’ Commission.
Just last month, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delivered a week long training to Namibian Members of Parliament.
No less than 183 Namibian students have benefited from Commonwealth scholarships and this August the University of Namibia (Unam) will host a Commonwealth Education Conference.
There are tangible benefits in terms of trade too; the Commonwealth is a source of economic dynamism for its member states, containing some of the fastest growing new economies in the world.
Intra-Commonwealth trade is estimated at US$687bn and predicted to grow to $1tn by 2020.
A Royal Commonwealth Society study suggested that shared history, values, language, and similar legal systems equate to a ‘Commonwealth Effect’ that is worth a 20 percent reduction in the cost of doing business between Commonwealth neighbours.
Put simply, in a modern world that is more and more dominated by networks, the Commonwealth is the ultimate network. It reaches across six continents and two billion citizens. It is united by the same principals of democracy, human rights, the rule of law and sustainable development.
At the same time it is extraordinarily diverse: demonstrating that democracy allows countries to develop in their own ways and provide essential foundations for sound economic development.
* Jo Lomas is the British High Commissioner to Namibia and Steve Vemunavi Katjiuanjo is the Namibian High Commissioner to the UK.