Exploring Commonwealth Myths

Stuart Mole
University of Exeter

April 2018 saw unaccustomed media coverage of the Commonwealth. At the beginning of the month, the  XXI Commonwealth Games opened on Australia’s Gold Coast.  There were an equal tally of medals won by male and female athletes and the integration of able and Paralympic athletes was striking. Though far from being a global Games, world records tumbled. Unusually, politics has featured, with English diving champion, Tom Daley, urging changes to the archaic and oppressive laws which deny equal rights on LBGT issues in many Commonwealth countries.

A few days after the Games’ closing ceremony, the biennial intergovernmental summit convened in London (the first such gathering in the UK for over twenty years). The high turnout of Heads of Government was less an indicator of the organisation’s contemporary vitality and more a sign that the Queen’s offer of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle for significant parts of the summit had proved particularly attractive to Commonwealth leaders and their spouses. At the end of the week, the Commonwealth’s presidents and prime ministers dutifully agreed that Prince Charles would succeed his mother as the organisation’s next Head – though no vacancy is currently in the offing.

Murphy-Empires-New-Clothes-webAmong this calculated pomp and splendour came publication of Professor Philip Murphy’s latest book: The Emperor’s New Clothes: the Myth of the Commonwealth  (2018, C. Hurst & Co, London).  Murphy is a distinguished historian and Director of the Institute for Commonwealth Studies at the University of London. As a Commonwealth sceptic, why he should have taken on his current role is one that even he struggles to explain. There was no gap year spent cycling across Malawi, no father in colonial service in Malaya. His childhood was spent in Hull and “overseas” was summer holidays on the Isle of Man. Continue reading “Exploring Commonwealth Myths”

Sonny Ramphal’s Global Life

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Stuart Mole
Mr. Mole is a PhD Student at the University of Exeter. He was Special Assistant to the Secretary-General (1984-1990), Director of the Secretary-General’s Office (1990-2000), and Director General of the Royal Commonwealth Society (2000-2009).

Nowadays, Sir Shridath ‘Sonny’ Ramphal – lawyer and international diplomat – is well settled into retirement, though still a giant figure in his native Caribbean and still able to stir the memories of older generations who remember his boundless activism on the world stage.

From 1975 to 1990 he was the longest-serving Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, and for six of those years I was lucky enough to be his Special Assistant. It was an exhilarating time, now given new immediacy by the recent publication of his memoir Glimpses of a Global Life (2014).

This weighty and enthralling record demonstrates a contribution to international affairs which was multi-faceted and never less than exceptional. He served on a string of international commissions, including Brandt, on development and the North-South divide; Bruntland, pioneering the notion of sustainable development; and Palme, on peace and international security. There were other issues where his intellectual leadership and courage stood out. He was among the first to warn Africa and the world of HIV/AIDS – and among the first to speak of sea-level rise and climate change, many decades before such talk became common currency.

But perhaps he is best remembered for his titanic struggle against racism in Southern Africa – in the eventual vanquishing of white minority rule in Rhodesia and, more than a decade later, in helping bring to an end apartheid in South Africa. Continue reading “Sonny Ramphal’s Global Life”