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Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 12:05 GMT
Profile: Don McKinnon
Secretary General of the Commonwealth Don McKinnon
McKinnon: Treading a careful line between factions
The Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Don McKinnon, was elected to the post in November 1999.

The 63-year-old New Zealander had previously served as his country's foreign minister and deputy prime minister.


I think the Commonwealth has an amazing relevance. It penetrates every part of the globe, is significant in terms of ethnicity, culture, and geography

Don McKinnon
Early in his tenure, Mr McKinnon stressed the desire to modernise the 54-nation organisation, and make it more ''credible".

In early 2000, Mr McKinnon told the International Herald Tribune: "I think the Commonwealth has an amazing relevance. It penetrates every part of the globe, is significant in terms of ethnicity, culture, and geography.

"I want to make it more relevant and credible, but also able to react to situations, so its flexibility is important, too. I feel the nature of the organisation gives us a major opportunity to take advantage of globalisation."

The official website of the Commonwealth secretariat says Mr McKinnon's key interests are among other things "actively supporting the Commonwealth's 'Good Governance' initiatives".

The shadow of Zimbabwe

Mr McKinnon's leadership of the Commonwealth has been dominated by one issue - Zimbabwe.

Secretary General of the Commonwealth Don McKinnon
Zimbabwe and the rule of Robert Mugabe has dominated recent Commonwealth business
The secretary general has had the difficult task of reconciling the differences of member governments over how to respond to land seizures from white farmers and continuing political violence.

At Commonwealth ministerial meetings, countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia pressed for Harare to be suspended from the organisation.

This has been opposed by the African nations, led by South Africa and Nigeria.

Mr McKinnon has usually taken a pragmatic view of the situation - arguing for engagement and dialogue with President Robert Mugabe.

After a Commonwealth meeting in January at which a proposal to suspend Zimbabwe was voted down, Mr McKinnon told the BBC: "The issue revolves around the question of whether we continue to argue about the principle of Zimbabwe's status [in the Commonwealth] or whether we do the one thing we can do right now - and that is to get observers n the ground for the elections."

Fiji problems

During Mr McKinnon's leadership, Fiji was excluded from Commonwealth business.

The action followed the overthrow of the elected government by nationalist gunmen led by George Speight in May 2000, and the suspension of the country's multi-racial constitution.

Fiji was reinstated in December 2001.

The suspension of Pakistan from Commonwealth meetings, because of the military coup of October 1999, still hangs over the organisation.

Long career

The eldest son of a former New Zealand army chief, Mr McKinnon was born in London and educated in the US and his home country.

Mr McKinnon's political career has so far spanned more than two decades.

Before entering politics in 1978, he worked in real estate and as a farm management consultant.

A former New Zealand minister for Pacific island affairs, Mr McKinnon successfully brokered a ceasefire and renewed political dialogue in a bloody Pacific island dispute between Bougainvilleans and the Papua New Guinea Government between 1995 and 1997.

He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 for his part in resolving that conflict.

See also:

21 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Commonwealth welcomes Fiji back
20 Mar 01 | South Asia
Pakistan tops Commonwealth talks
01 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Quick guide: The Commonwealth
22 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Timeline: The Commonwealth
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