New Internationalist

Commonwealth contradictions

A reader wrote us recently about her concerns about the Heads of Commonwealth meeting taking place now in Uganda. She raises some important issues:

Dear Editor,

I have been desperately trying to find media coverage on the Heads of Commonwealth meeting that is being held in Kampala Uganda from 23-25 Nov.  Worryingly I have been unable to find any development agencies that are concerned by the devastating human effect that the meetings are having.

The theme for Chogm 2007 is ‘Transforming Commonwealth Societies to achieve political, economic and human development'.  It is an ironic theme when you consider the preparation being undertaken by the Ugandan government for the 'Queen of England's' visit.

I guess on first hearing about the preparations it's positive news:

  • Streets are being cleaned up, except the reality is that this cleaning involves thousands of vulnerable street children being forcefully removed and thrown into a holding centre that is worse than ill equipped to deal with them. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/6378969.stm
  • Roads are being rebuilt, although only the roads the delegates will travel on, is this really classed as development?
  • Flowers are being planted, how pretty. I wonder how much money was spent on that? Perhaps enough to support some of the 9 million people who are living below the national poverty line. ww.undp.or.ug/aboutug.php
  • Business will boom, although perhaps not for the ordinary Ugandan whose duka (small shop at the side of the road) has been torn down because it makes the place look untidy.  Or for the man who has taken out an extravagant loan in the hope that the Queen might pop into his café for some chicken 'n chips.  Or for the families where the main breadwinner has not been paid because money is redirected into Chogm preparation. http://kampala.wordpress.com/2007/10/12/why-chogm-is-disturbing-me

I could go on, but sense that you've got the picture. I am hopeful that Chogm will have positive outcomes, but I am not convinced that the preparations show the governments concern for the 2007 theme.

Surely I am wrong in saying that development agencies are not interested in this? Is NI concerned about the devastating effect? What actions are/can be taken to bring awareness about during next weeks meetings?

- Gillian S

While it might be too late to do something about this particular meeting, it is not too late to raise important questions about the huge gap between rhetoric and reality.

This year we will also be at the midway point of the UN's Millennium Development Goals, which looks nowhere near likely to be achieved. Remember those? With all the media's attention fixated on the decision to suspend Pakistan from the Commonwealth, it's good to be reminded of some of the other issues which pass under the radar from this meeting. Thanks to Gillian for bringing this to our attention.

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