Fifty-Three Commonwealth nations represented by young leaders & their heads of government in LondonMary-Jean Nleya
The anticipated Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2018 (CHOGM) kicked off today in London and Windsor as 53 national flags of all Commonwealth nations-states line in Westminster’s Parliament Square. The heads of the various Commonwealth states (and their envoys) came to London to attend the biennial summit. The Commonwealth Youth Forum, People’s Forum, Women’s Forum and Business Forum are running concurrently with CHOGM 2018.
The Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF) also attracted young leaders from across the Commonwealth to attend discussions at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre (QEII Centre). The QEII Centre was pulsating with energy as youth leaders walked the hallways of the conference venue discussing and debating issues from development to climate change, democracy to migration issues, from refugees to security and more.
The CYF commenced with a welcome and introduction with the theme “Powering our Common Future”. Speakers included Prince Harry, who was appointed the Commonwealth Youth Ambassador. Prince Harry reminded those in attendance: “Young people are the answers for the challenges we face.” He further highlighted that it is important to tackle big problems from the root and it is young people who understand that. Prince Harry also announced the new Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholarships programme which will support 150 new scholars in low and middle-income countries.
Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Patricia Scotland, was also in attendance. Scotland underscored: “Tackling the complex and interconnected issues in our globalised world and achieving the SDGs hinges on young leaders and the millions they represent.” She concluded her remarks by saying: “Young people are indeed powering our common future.”
The United Nations Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake gave impassioned remarks that covered wide-ranging critical topics that went beyond encouraging the youth in the plenary session. Wickramanayake spoke on poverty, climate change inequalities within Commonwealth nations and across the Commonwealth. According to Wickramanayake, young people are not just the young generation; “young people”, she said, “are the SDG generation.” She reminded the attendees that young leaders’ purpose at CHOGM is to have “youth voices brought to the heads of government meeting this week” and that boldness and fresh perspectives are important to critically engage with the discussions. Wickramanayake also addressed the colonial history upon which the Commonwealth is founded.
Some ask whether the Commonwealth is relevant today, in a post-colonial era. Each of the 53 Commonwealth nations have their own priorities and interests, even while attempting for collective action “towards a common future”. The host-nation, UK, hosts the 2018 CHOGM hot on the heels of negotiating Brexit. To this end, in a post-Brexit UK, Commonwealth nations could be the alternative for the UK in terms of boosting trade-relations – and at this point observers view this as arguably one of the UK’s main priorities at CHOGM 2018. While other countries present also come with their own respective immediate and pressing concerns. The Commonwealth biennial summit is about the individual nations and also paradoxically about the collective. For example, a number of representatives from Caribbean nations are reported to have requested for a meeting with the UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May to discuss the Windrush-generation immigration matter; however, the requested meeting was not immediately granted.
This was just day one of the CYF during the CHOGM 2018 week; the day concluded with music and technology showcased at an evening reception ceremony where different musicians performed. Day two of the CYF will tackle questions such as “What the future of the Commonwealth should look like? How to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards for a sustainable future for all?” and more.