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Global Issue 15

global thi rd quar ter 2013 www.global -br ief ing.org l 79 commonwealth network Interview cided that they weren’t going to pay out to white farmers in order to make land available to black Zimbabwean farmers. Also, with tobacco prices falling, war veterans getting more agitated and Mugabe’s budgetary situation becoming intolerable, clashes were inevitable. Despite the best efforts of ourselves, and many others – particularly President Obasanjo of Nigeria – nothing was achieved. At no stage did Mugabe believe that he would be prevented from attending a CHOGM on the African continent, nor criticised by other African leaders. The reality was sad, but a good outcome for the Commonwealth.” I comment that, at the time, Zimbabwe complained of ‘double standards’ – that it was being more harshly judged by the Commonwealth than, say, Nigeria or Pakistan, given similar evidence of vote-rigging and political fraud. Wasn’t that a fair point? “No,” is his emphatic reply. “The great strength of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group was that the spread of membership meant that everyone had a say and could treat issues in a balanced way. We were always conscious that the African community was looking at the Asian community and vice versa on these issues all the time. However, when it came to the monitoring of elections, the greater criticism was directed at Zimbabwe. The violence actively supported by the government of Zimbabwe against members of the opposition MDC was far beyond anything that happened in Pakistan or in Nigeria and that was underlined very fi rmly by the Commonwealth Observer Mission.” But he does have one qualifi cation: “It can’t be ignored that the UK government treated Pakistan and its leader far more positively than Zimbabwe and its leader, even though both were suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth.” I remark that he had spent a lot of time, as Secretary-General, on ‘political’ issues. “Yes,” he responds: “it wasn’t expected, but Fiji, Zimbabwe and Pakistan created a very large demand on the Secretariat’s staff. I believe that in all this we had a measure of success – except Zimbabwe. To me, the important challenge was to uphold Commonwealth values. It was very clear to me that if the SG, the Secretariat and even the Commonwealth were to be at all relevant, I had to be active in support of those principles. But before any action could be taken, the SG has to make contact with the appropriate people, beneath the radar, in the hope of changing attitudes before issues become more complex and public. It does take time and considerable persuasion to convince a leader that their country is on the wrong course.” Would the newly-enhanced terms of reference used by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) help in future? “In many cases, yes; but the new criteria will also have the capacity to delay action in some areas.” I then ask him about working with Heads of Government. At times, his memoirs reveal frank speaking and, sometimes, brittle relations. How did he strike the balance between being a ‘secretary’ and a ‘general’? He replied: “You always had to have a very good relationship with all Heads of Government. Many times you needed them to give you support for the very serious, but delicate, missions you were carrying out. You always had to portray yourself as being a very good secretary – but like any good soldier, you carried a general’s baton behind your back.” He seemed to have a particular problem with the UK government, whether prime ministers, ministers or offi cials. “The UK government didn’t really have a positive attitude towards the Commonwealth,” he contends. “Many Brit politicians and offi cials see us – whether New Zealanders or Australians – as transplanted Brits, and therefore easy to deal with. But we are different and see things a bit differently.” But was he not born in the UK? “Yes, but of New Zealand parents. Being born in a stable doesn’t make you a horse!” So why does he think the British weren’t more positive about Commonwealth membership? “The international issues for the UK were dominated by the US relationship, Europe, and the Middle East. Anything else was below the salt,” he conjectures. He reminds me of the oft-quoted 2006 fi gures, adding: “Every UK taxpayer paid £53 per year to Europe; £10 a year to the United Nations; £2 to NATO; and the Commonwealth got 17p. That’s hardly a strong commitment!” On a more personal level, did he see a British hand in the plot to deny him a second term in Abuja? “Yes, I heard evidence that they had told Sri Lanka that if there was support for their candidate, the UK would move in that direction,” he admits. “But Blair said otherwise, and that’s what counts. The greatest support the Commonwealth has in British politics is always in Parliament, no longer in the FCO Foreign and Commonwealth Offi ce.” Politics aside, I ask McKinnon about the importance of development. “I was passionate about development, because the more strongly we pushed developing countries on governance issues, the more we needed to help with development. Making sure their Commonwealth membership was well balanced was the key, and assisting on trade negotiations was but one initiative.” And small states? “I was delighted we Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon accepts his honorary degree from the University of Manchester, UK e UK government didn’t really have a positive attitude towards the Commonwealth. Many Brit politicians and o cials see us – whether New Zealanders or Australians – as transplanted Brits 


Global Issue 15
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