12 January 2016

Gambia: 'The Gambia Should Return to the Commonwealth'

Photo: The Commonwealth
60th Conference of the Association of Commonwealth Parliamentarians (file photo).

The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 53 independent and equal sovereign states. The Commonwealth includes some of the world's largest, smallest, richest and poorest countries. Member countries are supported by an active network of more than 80 intergovernmental, civil society, cultural and professional organisations.

The Commonwealth has no constitution or charter, but the heads of government of its member states hold Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM) every two years to discuss issues of common interest.

The Gambia government in 2013 announced the withdrawal of the country from the Commonwealth. This decision sparked a debate with some in favour of the withdrawal while others strongly opposed the move. Two years have gone by since the withdrawal, and it is important to examine why it is important for The Gambia to return to the Commonwealth.

Firstly, let us look at the benefits of the Commonwealth for member countries.

1. The Commonwealth Secretariat provides guidance on policy making, technical assistance and advisory services to Commonwealth member countries.

2. Member governments are supported to help achieve sustainable, inclusive and equitable development.

3. The Commonwealth promotes democracy, rule of law, human rights, good governance and social and economic development and serve as a voice for small states.

4. Building, supporting and strengthening legal systems of member countries is a key aim of the Commonwealth. This includes promoting regular elections and strengthening election bodies, institutions and processes as well as assisting in building lasting democratic institutions, enabling citizen participation and representation at national and local level.

5. The Commonwealth promotes good governance, strong democracy, rule of law, protection of human rights and respect for diversity.

6. The Commonwealth helps consolidate and strengthen confidence in government institutions and work with governments and national authorities to help them root out systemic corruption and uphold transparency and accountability.

7. In promoting good governance, member countries are assisted to secure growth and poverty alleviation, because effective institutions, sound financial management and integrity in public office promotes better public services.

8. The Commonwealth helps member countries take advantage of economic growth and improve their ability to manage long-term development by working closely with member governments, international organisations, businesses and academics.

9. The Commonwealth helps to give people a voice in their lives and communities and empower them by helping create unified, strong, inclusive and accountable institutions. The Commonwealth promotes gender equality and women's empowerment in Commonwealth countries and work with National Women's Machineries to support the social, political and economic empowerment of women and the advancement of women's rights

In the light of all the benefits highlighted above, it is evident that The Gambia will benefit from Commonwealth membership. Hence, it is important for the government to restore The Gambia's Commonwealth membership.

Besides the benefits outlined above, the Gambian people have missed out on certain benefits that come with Commonwealth membership. The key benefit I want to highlight is the Commonwealth scholarship for further education. Many Gambians have in the past benefited from this scheme. However, since the withdrawal from the Commonwealth, Gambian citizens have missed out on this great opportunity. These scholarships were not only for the benefit of individuals, but for the nation at large as the beneficiaries often return to work in The Gambia and help in national development after been equipped with the knowledge and skills to meet the challenges of national development.

Despite all the benefits mentioned, The Commonwealth has been criticised for being a post-colonial club and having little influence. But the association promotes democracy, good government, human rights and economic development.

However, its influence over its own members derives from the benefits which membership brings in developmental support and cooperation on international goals to promote development.

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