Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Yes but the gin-and-tonics are first rate: The Connie weighs in on Mugabe's "angry" withdrawal from the Commonwealth, by first of all noting that it's not entirely clear what Zimbabwe was withdrawing from.
The Commonwealth is indeed an odd creature. It is largely, though not purely, the remnants of Britain’s empire, which once covered a quarter of the world’s land surface. Zimbabwe’s withdrawal leaves the club with 53 members—including Australia, Canada, India, Nigeria and South Africa as well as Britain—bound together in a voluntary association. When the term “commonwealth” was first used, in the 1920s, it was a means of preserving ties without the unpleasant colonial overtones that the word “empire” contained.
It once offered particular economic advantages to some of the former colonies as they received favorable trade terms from the mother country.
However, many of these benefits have diminished in the 30 years since Britain joined the predecessor to the EU. One of the EU’s main purposes is to be a regional free-trade zone, and Britain is now prohibited from granting its former colonies special privileges. Britain’s immigration rules have tightened up too, and most Commonwealth citizens now have special rights only if they already have relatives in Britain.
Now it's mostly a cultural/social institution which presumes to share common values and ideals. This is, of course laughable, in light of the fact that many of the members were pushing for Mugabe, I mean, Zimbabwe, to be reinstated despite one of the worst human rights records on, ahhh, record. And, it really seems to serve the interests of the tiny countries more than anyone else.
For former colonies, it is the most important global organisation that the United States does not dominate. And though Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is the head of the Commonwealth, Britain has no special status. Indeed, Tony Blair, Britain’s prime minister, who had been disgusted at the idea that Zimbabwe’s suspension might be lifted, expressed his frustration that all votes at the Commonwealth have to be unanimous—Britain and its anti-Mugabe allies could not pull rank. It is one of the few international bodies in which a tiny country like St Lucia has the same standing as G7 members like Britain and Canada. Individuals join clubs because of the people they will rub shoulders with. Why should heads of government, and the countries they represent, be any different?
Pass the cashews, won't you?

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