A new diplomatic battleground may be in the making between Rwanda and Pacific ocean island nation of Samoa, as to who will host the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit or CHOGM.
On Tuesday April 21 late evening, Rwanda and the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, issued a joint statement announcing that the CHOGM due in Kigali in June was “postponed”. Both Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland QC, were quoted.
Amid the COVID-19 global pandemic, the 54-member Commonwealth family clearly agreed it was not possible to hold the summit in June. Not even the virtual summit was considered, as other major international summits are doing.
Though the statement quoting President Kagame and SG Scotland gives hints that CHOGM Kigali is still standing, another separate statement by UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, adds more confusion to an already fluid situation.
Kagame said in part: “…We look forward to welcoming the Commonwealth family to Kigali for CHOGM once the pandemic has been defeated.”
SG Scotland said in part: “…I too warmly look forward to reuniting with the Commonwealth family, face-to-face, in the beautiful country of Rwanda.”
But then, in a Tweet just after the Kagame-Scotland statement, Dominic Raab said: “We support the difficult decision taken by @PaulKagame to postpone #CHOGM20 due to #COVID19. During a recent conversation, I confirmed the UK looks forward to the next CHOGM being held in Kigali and will continue as Commonwealth Chair-in-Office until then.”
The key words in Raab’s statement that could be causing discomfort in some capitals, and will have to be explained further in coming days to avert an imminent diplomatic row, are “next CHOGM being held in Kigali”.
The CHOGM takes place every two years, and the “next” summit has already been scheduled.
At the CHOGM in London in April 2018, Rwanda was confirmed as host of CHOGM 2020. The final communiqué read that the leaders “also welcomed the offer of Samoa to host the 2022 CHOGM”.
At the London Summit, Samoa with backing from Australia, successfully battled a powerful bid from Malaysia for 2022.
With Samoa in play, several issues emerge aa regards CHOGM Kigali. The leaders will be doing more explaining in the coming days, if they are to remove all the confusion reigning. Here are some of the issues;
If the “next CHOGM”, as said by UK Foreign Secretary Raab, who is a key party to such high-level decisions, refers to CHOGM 2022, does it mean that even if COVID-19 pandemic is finally eliminated, there will be no CHOGM this year or next year?
If the “next CHOGM”, as said by UK Foreign Secretary Raab, refers to 2022, does it mean Samoa is off the table and the Summit will come to Kigali?
If the “next CHOGM”, as said by UK Foreign Secretary Raab, refers to 2022 coming to Kigali, what about Samoa; did it accept and what was it offered in return?
Hosting CHOGM, brings Queen Elizabeth II and by consequence, huge international attention to a country. With this flashy publicity, comes tourism dollars for the foreseeable future. It also significantly elevates a country’s global standing, and the stature of the leader of the host country.
Government’s go to great lengths to wade off fierce competition to be picked.
Locally, the summit puts host government’s on pressure to showcase the best possible showing in terms of infrastructure and soft power. As a result, host countries get infrastructural developments, which they otherwise would never have experienced.
Host cities get facelifts, bringing changes that usually remain long after all CHOGM delegates have left.
Preparations in Rwanda had been in high gear, with government expecting at least 9,000 delegates to attend the different sideline segments of CHOGM which go on for two weeks before final leaders’ summit.
Samoa has a population of about 200,000 people, which is less than the population of any one of the 30 districts of Rwanda.