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Global Issue 15

commonwealth network 78 l www.global -br ief ing.org thi rd quar ter 2013 global Interview Shaking up the Secretariat Former Secretary-General Don McKinnon revolutionised Marlborough House during his tenure, increasing the turnover of senior staff and cutting the organisation’s spending to bring about a more dynamic working atmosphere. He tells Global how he was able to persuade the leaders of Pakistan and Fiji to bring their policies more in line with Commonwealth values, but could make little headway with Zimbabwe Stuart Mole Sir Donald McKinnon, better known as Don, became the Commonwealth’s fourth Secretary-General in 2000, serving for two terms until 2008. Now living back in his native New Zealand, he came over to London to launch his Commonwealth memoir In the Ring. I caught up with him, to quiz him about some of the issues he raises in his book. Why, I venture, did he want a job with the Commonwealth, after a successful career in politics including becoming New Zealand’s longest-serving Minister of Foreign Affairs? “To me, nine years for one person to be Foreign Minister was long enough – I was beginning to see issues come around for the second and third time,” he explains. “Having a taste of Commonwealth activities, I knew enough to find the opportunity attractive”. Did he expect to be elected? “From comments by various Commonwealth leaders, I could see that there was a reasonable possibility, providing I was able to convince enough key people.” The job itself brought an array of challenges, McKinnon admits. “The nature of engagement with the membership was changing, and I felt much could be done to restore the image of the Commonwealth. Having been a Foreign Minister for so long, I couldn’t think of a better background for the job.” We turn to Zimbabwe. It was an issue that consumed his early years as SG and could have denied him re-election in Abuja, in 2003. Was Zimbabwe’s departure from the Commonwealth inevitable? “Working with Zimbabwe was never going to be easy,” he muses. “I remember, in 1997, Zimbabwe’s Foreign Minister, Stan Mudenge, making it very clear to me that the problems Zimbabwe faced could see their government doing some things that would be a contravention of Commonwealth values.” Could the problem have been resolved before 2000? “Not likely. A collision course was inevitable once the UK government de- Don McKinnon shares a joke with former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo


Global Issue 15
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