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Tuesday, 5 March, 2002, 09:48 GMT
Zimbabwe: Should the Commonwealth act now?
Robert Mugabe - a controversial leader

Deep divisions have emerged between Commonwealth leaders over how to deal with the escalating violence in the run up to Zimbabwe's presidential elections.

Zimbabwe was to have dominated the first full session of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) but the first session of the four-day meeting, deep differences became apparent and it was decided that the matter would be discussed in private on Sunday.

Commonwealth powers Britain, Australia and New Zealand want Zimbabwe suspended from the 54-nation organization, but many African nations are lining up behind President Robert Mugabe and defying calls for suspension.

In 1999, Pakistan was temporarily banned from the organisation after the military coup which brought to power General Musharraf. It now remains the only country suspended from the Commonwealth.

What do you think Commonwealth leaders should do about Zimbabwe? Is the Commonwealth a viable political institution?

We have been discussing these issues during our phone-in programme from the Commonwealth summit in Brisbane. Our guest was Richard Bourne from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

Select a link below to listen to or watch the latest edition of Talking Point:

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This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.

Your reaction:

I think the world would commend the Commonwealth if sanctions were imposed. I know that I would. Africa's troubles stem from demagogues such as Mugabe, who as evidenced by his use of terror and torture, will surely become the Idi Amin or Mobutu of Zimbabwe. The sanctions would be a useful, proactive solution that might teach Mugabe and any other would be tyrants that the age of the quintessential African dictator is dead. Great Britain is a bastion of civilization and has every right to safeguard the rights of the people of Zimbabwe.
Christopher John, USA

it does seem to be a forum free of the vested interests of the US, which cannot be said of the UN.

Giles, Singapore / Canada
If any discussion of the commonwealth is going to come down to what your opinion of the British Empire was, then of course every god fearing Republican from Boston to Belfast is going to jump in with the opposition. Constant and illogical reminiscing about what the Brits might have done wrong to ones great, great, grand parents does to nothing hide the fact that a great deal of good came out of the whole experience. The commonwealth is an organization that brings different cultures with some shared history together, talking shop it might be, but it does seem to be a forum free of the vested interests of the US, which cannot be said of the UN.
Giles, Singapore/Canada

I am a Zimbabwean living in the USA. My position is that the elections have been rigged already, and it is very disappointing to see the Commonwealth protecting Mugabe by not sanction him right now for unleashing violence on his own citizenry. It seems to me that our African presidents don't have the Zimbabwean people's interests at heart.
Dr. Eliakim Sibanda, Denver, U.S.A.

I am frankly appalled by some of the comments made by several of the contributors to this forum. I have witnessed the Commonwealth working hard with EU agencies to improve the economic situation for farmers in former colonies in the Pacific region. The commonwealth perform many good works that will always go unrecognised by the public of many countries. The commonwealth is a good forum for discussions between diverse cultures about issues/worries that unite individual nations. Obviously these individual nations see a benefit to remaining within the commonwealth as they can pull out at any time. Some contributors have indicated that we should leave international issues to the UN etc, but they haven't been so great either and that is with military capabilities. Look at Somalia in the 90's or before that take China's invasion of Tibet and subsequent human rights abuses. The UN stood by and did nothing after Tibet pleaded for help. Therefore I believe that the commonwealth is a good forum (low cost as well) for bringing to the attention issues that might have been ignored otherwise.
Chris G, Belgium,

Was rather annoyed to hear Mugabe telling Blair to keep his "pink nose" out of Zimbabwe's affairs. I believe if Blair had told Mugabe to keep his "black nose" out of Britain's affairs then Blair would be called a racist bigot. Why is this label not being used against the obviously violently anti-white racist Mugabe???
Nick, England

The Commonwealth has had the Zimbabwe issue hanging over it for the last two years and has failed miserably on every count. Mugabe has made as many false promises as needed, whilst the Commonwealth goes and pats itself on the back for what they wrongly perceive as a job well done with the old despot. The fact that General Abubakar, who was appointed the head of the Commonwealth observer team, is guilty of human rights abuses is abominable. Quite what the Commonwealth hopes to achieve with the likes of Obasanjo and Mbeki backing Mugabe to the hilt is anyone¿s guess. I believe that the Commonwealth can and will still serve a meaningful function, but not in its present form. The fact that the Zimbabwe issue is splitting it along racial lines is tragic and shows tremendous flaws. Instead the Commonwealth lends credibility to the Mugabe regime, despite the erosion of the values it preaches, by continually refusing to stand up to him.
Steve, Zim and UK

The Commonwealth is totally irrelevant, it is not cool

Tom, Perth, Australia
The Commonwealth is totally irrelevant, it is not cool. As a conduit for aid to the third world it is inefficient. Globalisation is much more effective. Not only does globalisation liberate people from primitive, indolent (albeit self-sufficient and harmonious) lifestyles - it delivers a return for the investor. We know who these investors are and that is why institutions such as the Commonwealth will be made redundant through bad press. Critics point out there is very little in common and very little wealth. They neglect to point out that the trendy-ism isn't about the common or distributing real wealth to the average person, it is more about entrenching the wealth of those enclaves in Palm Spring and the Hamptons.
Tom, Perth, Australia

Why not wait until after the elections to see what happens? Either they will not be fair, and the West will have been right to protest, and then further measures can be taken. Or they will be fair and the West will be once again proven to be biased.
MJ, the Netherlands

Whites make up less than one percent of the population of Zimbabwe, but they own most of the best farmland, expropriated without compensation a century ago. About 4,500 white landowners farm about twenty-eight million acres of prime land, while one million black peasant farmers share the remaining forty million acres of poorer land. Mugabe may be cynically manipulating the issue, but while this injustice which has dominated the history of Zimbabwe since white occupation is maintained, there is little hope for peace and justice under any administration.
Martin, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Unfortunately despite the existence of commonwealth for all this period since ifs formation, there has been an increase of colonial-related sufferings. Take Zimbabwe. The British have an unfinished business of the land issue and are unwilling to finish it, which creates the sense of desperation and violence because there is no way out. Zimbabwe is only one and more are to come. It is also unfortunate that the rich commonwealth member countries are using the aid/money to split the citizens and trigger conflicts. Democracy has become a word of mouth but not action, how do you expect agreement?
Justin L., Brisbane/Australia

Zimbabwe is a prime example of something that has gone wrong

Debbie Schaap, Netherlands
I am an ex-South African living in the Netherlands, and would like to say to the West: wake up to the problems caused by some of the leaders in Zimbabwe and South Africa, before many more people suffer without food, without democracy, and the police! Zimbabwe is a prime example of something that has gone wrong, because people turn their faces the other way until things are so bad their that we have another Afghanistan on our hands. Please step in now before it is too late. But don't make ordinary Zimbabweans suffer!
Debbie Schaap, Netherlands

A few points to those of you who are not from the Commonwealth and therefore may not fully understand the idea behind its existence:
(a) Although the preservation of British interests may have been a reason behind the Commonwealth's creation, this is no longer a key factor for its continued existence. Anyway, the UK ceased to be its centrepiece a long time ago.
(b) Instead, the Commonwealth is an informal low-cost forum at which a loose association of nations with a common historical link meet up and network. Think of it as a high school or university reunion.
(c) Like a university reunion, the Commonwealth does not pretend to have any grand ambitions or any great relevance. But it is a useful platform to keep in touch and discuss various issues. The rest of us would have withdrawn from the Commonwealth if we thought it was really such a waste of time and/or money: instead, the meetings, the Commonwealth Games, etc all have pretty much a 100% turnout (those of you who were here during the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Malaysia will testify to the unique Commonwealth atmosphere).
To summarise, if you aren't part of this alumnus, there's really no point in feeling jealous and criticising it - you aren't missing out on too much. If you are part of this alumnus but are too anti-social to approve of it, shut up anyway and let the more sociable and friendly amongst us meet up for the occasional reunion.
Kenny, K.L., Malaysia

Thanks God, Africans have resisted neo-colonialism. Do as we say, mentality is soon history. Bravo especially to Presidents Mkapa of Tanzania and Sam Nujoma of Namibia.
Ahmed Mussa, Stockholm Sweden

Mugabe has successfully given the entire world the run-around. A tin-pot African leader on his last legs. The First World countries that pride themselves as being democratic should be ashamed.
Samuel, Harare, Zimbabwe

Selective sanctions should be imposed even before the elections

Ofori Yeboah
President Mugabe and many other undemocratic leaders often find refuge in the much-abused concept of 'national sovereignty' when their policies/actions are under international scrutiny. Selective sanctions should be imposed even before the elections. This is the finest opportunity to end it all! Meanwhile, the Commonwealth remains the last powerful guarantor of human rights, hope and dignity for millions of people - its relevance is simply unquestionable.
Ofori Yeboah

However sinister in design it may seem, the erstwhile British colonies can exchange recriminations against each other, and still maintain semblance of friendship and nostalgic feelings.
Dr. R.P.Sehgal, Ottawa, Canada

I think that Talking Point often illustrates how few people study history. I don't see how we can develop our institutions today without a clear understanding of the past. To those who think the British Empire damaged it's dependencies: I suggest you study what was going on in those countries before it existed, and what has happened in those countries since it ceased. The "damage" has resulted from the lack of power - from the removal of British influence and its succession by the economic imperialism of the US. The pax-Britannica of the 19th century may have been a peace-of-the-gun, but at least it was peaceful and there was scope for political, social and economic development across the world. Now we have a superpower which takes all but gives nothing - benefits economically, but has none of the social or political responsibilities. If the Commonwealth could go some way to redressing this imbalance then of course it has a role - and to do so it needs a strong and respectable leader - I can think of no better person than The Queen.
Ed, UK

The Commonwealth isn't being used to maximum benefit. The Commonwealth needs good, dedicated, and supermotivated leadership to help the poorer countries. Africa for example... why doesn't the Commonwealth appoint somebody who cares and has clouts to help the poorest continent on this planet? In all seriousness, someone like Bono would be a great leader and asset if given the power to make change. He has a long and proven track record showing his dedication to the issue of third world poverty. Unlike most famous types, he actually does something. Someone wake up the Queen or whoever you Brits have controlling the Commonwealth and put in some real leadership!
Johnson, Seattle USA

Even if we suspect the elections are not going to be fair, any decision taken by the Commonwealth will certainly not stop Mr. Mugabe's actions there

Luciano Monteiro, Sao Leopoldo - Brazil
Any decision taken by the Commonwealth will certainly not stop Mr. Mugabe's actions there. If Zimbabwe is suspended, the local government will expel all the Commonwealth monitors and it will be much easier for Mr. Mugabe to conduct the elections the way he likes and be the winner.
Even if we suspect the elections are not going to be fair, any decision taken by the Commonwealth will certainly not stop Mr. Mugabe's actions there. If Zimbabwe is suspended, the local government will expel all the Commonwealth monitors and it will be much easier for Mr. Mugabe to conduct the elections the way he likes and be the winner.
And one has to take into account that Mr. Mugabe can well win the elections in a legitimate way, he can get the majority of the votes, and be fairly elected, and then the will of the people should be respected. The Zimbabweans have the right to choose the leader they like best, and Britain, as a country committed to democracy, has to accept it.
Luciano Monteiro, Sao Leopoldo - Brazil

The question should be: Can the commonwealth do anything positive? And can it do it on time? We shall continue debating these issues while Mugabe continues with undermining democracy and suppressing his people. It's about time we world become more proactive rather than firefight all the time, especially when we deal with crafty tyrants like Mugabe.
Arif Sayed, Dubai, UAE

Although the Commonwealth is an organisation with little real power, exclusion from it would be a further indication to the government of Zimbabwe that the world is not prepared to sit back whilst their torture and murder continues. Targeted sanctions have created tensions within Zanu PF and expulsion from the Commonwealth will add to these tensions. Only once rifts in the party become stronger will those with less blood on their hands have the courage to break away from their desperate leader.
David James, Harare, Zimbabwe

Wel well well, not suprising the Americans pipe up to remind us of the rather distasteful period of our history, the British Empire. How about we look at your more modern corporate empire? Nike-sponsored sweat shops and the like? Our history is horrible, your future history is even more terrifying. Don't count on my vote to ever stand shoulder to shoulder with you ever again.
Scott, England

The Commonwealth is very slow to act, all those African Leaders who do not support sanctions on Robert Mugabe, are also people who have not treated their own people fairly. I believe sanctions should be imposed right away.
K Ndhela Matsheza, Zimbabwean/USA

The commonwealth is still relevant. It is a unique institution where everybody's voice is listened to

Ali La Pointe, Algeria
Yes, the commonwealth is still relevant. It is a unique institution where everybody's voice is listened to. To all those who were criticising Britain, I say: certainly the British were not fair in dealing with their former colonies but they have been BY FAR the FAIREST among all the colonial powers.
Ali La Pointe, Algeria

I can see no possible reason(s) for remaining in this outdated so-called organisation except as a place for our Royals to dodge the British winters, or our P.M. to strut his stuff at any time.
Bill Brown, UK

The very word Commonwealth smacks of a long gone colonial world. It is totally ineffective and costs the hard-pressed taxpayers a lot of money on expensive club outings.
David Norris, Scotland

Any instutition is only as relevant as its behaviour dictates. The trouble is that some just don't know when they should call it a day. We should invest more time and energy in working with organisations that still have some potential to unite and assist nations moving forward into the 21st century ... instead of clinging to some ancient relic of a long gone colonial era. The EU and the United Nations are two that spring to mind ... in spite of their (many) faults, their principles are at least well founded, something that can be built on without any twinges of shame for the past!
Mike, London, UK

Yes we did make mistakes when we used to rule the world but the Commonwealth is now a free organisation where the nations of the Commonwealth are all absolutly equal

James, London, UK
Suprise-suprise, most people on here are against the Commonwealth. Yes we did make mistakes when we used to rule the world but the Commonwealth is now a free organisation where the nations of the Commonwealth are all absolutly equal. To those people saying we still have not given back Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, the Falkland islands - the majority of people in the places wish to remain in UK dependancies apart from a bunch of terrorists in Northern Ireland. Also to Mark, USA: there is no mess formed after the collapse of the British Empire. At least we are still friends with our old colonies America thinks it rules the world now and has made the biggest mess ever. Just look at Vietnam because you did not like it. Israel & Palestine and New York, how perfect are you lot?
James, London, UK

It 'delivers' to Heathrow every day. Mostly drugs and new welfare claimants.
Brian W.,

I really do not know what the function of the Commonwealth is. It is jsut an excuse to attend meetings in exotic countries. The Zimbabwe issue has made Britain and the West a laughing stock of the world. The fact that Obasanjo is supporting Mugabe is an open disregard for Britain. The Commonwealth majority is formed of third-world countries. Does anyone think they will oppose another third world country? Even the leaders themselves are unscrupulous - president of Sri-lanka refused to attend... In my view, the Commonwealth should cease to eist and Britain should not provid aid or support to these ungrateful nations
Sandra, Nigeria/Srilanka/USA

As one Canadian writer wrote a few years ago, the Commonwealth is an ill-named organisation, since 'it has very little in common, and not much more wealth'

DRP, England
As one Canadian writer wrote a few years ago, the Commonwealth is an ill-named organisation, since 'it has very little in common, and not much more wealth'. Granted, it is certainly an organisation with representation on every continent in the world, and for that matter it ought to count for more on the world stage. However, if representatives from different countries want to discuss matters of interest and concern, they invariably go to the United Nations. The principles behind the Commonwealth's continued survival these days seem to be threefold:
1) To give the Queen yet another title and purpose;
2) To give ageing Empire Loyalists a nostalgic reminder of a "Golden Era" when Britain once called the shots in the world; and
3) To enable Australian and Canadian athletes to sweep the board at the Commonwealth Games.
This contrasts rather unfavourably with organisations such as the UN or European Union, which are founded on more noble principles, such as human rights and international justice. Finally, to Samantha of London: there are plenty of people in Ireland, India, Kenya, and Malaysia - scenes of brutal wars of independence - who would disagree with your claim that the British "gave their empire back" without a violent struggle.
DRP, England

The failure of this organisation to act speedily against the abuse of power by Mugabe makes it a laughing stock. If it cannot address a situation such as this in a robust manner what is the point of its existence other than to run a second-rate competitor to the Olympics every four years?
Nick, UK

When the Commonwealth does have a chance to do something positive, such as impose sanctions on the Mugabe regime, it fails miserably

R. Watson, Manchester, UK
The Commonwealth seems to be a complete irrelevance. It seems to do nothing of any real value and when it does have a chance to do something positive, such as impose sanctions on the Mugabe regime, it fails miserably. Let's just call it a day and get on with running our own countries.
R. Watson, Manchester, UK

The UK's aid budget and trading links are biased towards the Commonwealth. Its effect may not be huge, but it is positive and pragmatic. As one of the few political institutions bridging the North/South divide, we should build on it.
Michael Grazebrook, Berlin, Germany (ex UK)

It's a pity that there are so many negative comments about the Commonwealth here, most of which cite "neo-imperialism" or a "lack of power" as a reason for their disdain. Luckily I see that most comments from Commonwealthers are positive, suggesting the organisation is neither as pointless or offensive as others make out. The Commonwealth is open to any Country: republic or monarchy, dependency or superpower. Its beauty comes from its principle of mutual respect - it will not force its decisions on people, it will not fine them or send in troops, it does not try to mould their cultures or weld their economies. Instead it encourages them to celebrate both their similarities and their differences. It opens the eyes and allows nations to speak to one another without fear or distrust. It shows that we can find solutions through dialogue rather than dictation. The Commonwealth nations are equals in a world rife with inequality. They are friends growing old together, their disputes of the past forgiven, though the lessons learnt and not forgotten. They have overcome apartheid, slavery, imperialism and rebellion. In the future, they shall play a key role in tackling poverty, pollution and despotism.
Phil, United Kingdom

The great advantage of the commonwealth is the shared culture and language that history gives us. Although there are those that wish to dwell on the negative aspects of an imperial past and see a problem in the fact that the shared culture and language is English, this common heritage can give all the nation states of the commonwealth a strong trading partnership to benefit the people of our nations. If we learn the lessons of the past and embrace the future, the Commonwealth can be to the benefit of us all. The future is in our hands
Alex Keenleyside, England

The difference between the British Empire and all other Empires the world has known is that the British gave it back

Stephanie, London, UK
To Tridiv Borah India/Germany: The Commonwealth has everything to do with democracy. The distinctive difference between the British Empire and all other Empires the world has known is that the British gave it back (as opposed to occupied states having to go to war for their freedom). Out of this the democratic Commonwealth was established, of which, as you point out yourself, India (or any other member state, including presumably the UK) can vote to pull out of anytime it wishes.
Stephanie, London, UK

Isn't it funny that many countries fought to end Britain's colonial rule over them? We listened to what they wanted and let them rule themselves and look at the mess they've made. Now we have to deal with asylum seekers and refugees from these countries. First they wanted us out of their countries - now they want into ours. Isn't that ironic?
Andrew Weir,

Commonwealth is an ego-boosting shop for the Brits, and the royal followers in white Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Contrast the highly positive comments of the Brits on Commonwealth with the invariably negative ones on EU. I commend Amitabh Ghosh on his refusal to accept the Commonwealth award, and suggest that Indian government takes that clue to withdraw because it reflects the Indian opinion. Commonwealth has little to do with democracy, and a lot to do with the bygone era. In its dealing with EU, UK has demonstrated that it is incapable of becoming a equal member in a democratic organisation.
Tridiv Borah, India/Germany

I wish to remind Stephanie, London, UK that the British Empire wasn't entirely given back without a fight. When it was so it was because it was no longer profitable to keep.
TJ Cassidy, USA

How wrong can Stephanie, UK be? The commonwealth is not a democratic organisation - the Queen is the unelected head of the organisation. The UK is classed as the lead country of the organisation and it has not returned Northern Ireland, Gibraltar or the Falklands.
Sean, London, UK

The only thing that all of these countries have in common with each other is that they were at one time victims of British imperialism. It is impossible for me to see how countries with such a diversity of situations, points of view, populations and every other factor of their existence could be well served by an organisation short of the United Nations. The sun never sets on the mess left by the British Empire.
Mark, USA

In my opinion, the Commonwealth as it is today is useless. It cannot enforce its decisions and is made up of nations with different interests and goals. It should be transformed into several organizations: more regional organizations made up of the third-world nations that have common goals and needs (these groups could expand to include non-commonwealth nations), and a group made up of the UK and nations such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and even the US. These countries share the English language, similar if not identical cultures, and common interests in areas of international policy.
Daniel, Maryland, USA

To me, it's just another organisation wasting the time of our politicians.
Emily, Liverpool, UK

No. It's an outdated construct which lost all its merit whatsoever.
Volker, England (ex Germany)

Britain is bound by history to the Commonwealth

Craig Ritchie, UK

Certainly, the EU has surpassed the Commonwealth in importance as regards UK politics. But now that Britain no longer has the Commonwealth trading arrangements, these are largely different organisations. Britain is bound by history to the Commonwealth and, I believe, has an interest and a moral obligation in the economic and democratic development of these nations. This is what our foreign aid should be concentrated on.
Craig Ritchie, UK

The UK belatedly realises that the best common market it should have joined/started/encouraged in the late sixties and early seventies is the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is where the UK belongs, and not as a part of greater Europe.
Andy W, UK

Completely irrelevant. The only two nations in the Commonwealth with any power whatsoever, Britain and Canada, have their focus, quite rightly, on the neighbours. The EU is the only forum which does not include the United States to have any relevance in world affairs. For Canada, relations with the U.S. are obviously the most important - and even Britain has more interest in the U.S. than in the Commonwealth. The rest of us live in nations that are utterly and completely impotent in world - even in regional - affairs. Personally I'm surprised Blair is wasting his time coming here, I assume he must be visiting Japan or China, and CHOGM is a taxpayer funded beach holiday.
Tim Fountain, Melbourne, Australia

Apart from maybe the UN, the Commonwealth is the only body that incorporates diverse nations with different racial, economic and cultural realities

Austin Amadasun, Nigeria
Apart from maybe the UN, the Commonwealth is the only body that incorporates diverse nations with different racial, economic and cultural realities. This is a welcomed change from the territorial, inward-looking nature of the other such bodies. The potential for political and social good that such a body represents is incalculable. Imagine a future where Nigeria is a nuclear power, along with India, Pakistan and the UK. Apart from the toothless, window-dressing entity called the UN, where else can you get their leaders together to reduce self-annihilation risks?
Austin Amadasun, Nigeria

Contrary to popular belief in many preceding comments, membership is not restricted to former British Dominions or Protectorates, and countries that agree with the guiding principles of the Commonwealths Mission Statement may apply for membership. Furthermore, countries are not bound to the Commonwealth for all eternity and may leave at any time. That so many countries (involving over 30% of the worlds population) remain a part of it shows that it must be relevant at some level. Some of its most important roles involve the sharing of ideas, the distribution of aid to promote education, scientific and agricultural development, and the promotion of goodwill and understanding between different races - and lets face it, the world cannot get enough of that sort of help in these troubled times.
CJH, Oslo, Norway

The Commonwealth (the name is a joke in itself!) does nothing useful for the African countries and I wish all of them would withdraw and concentrate their efforts on the OAU. Having the Queen as the head is just typical British nostalgia and as mentioned by other, the Commonwealth has done nothing to combat the problems facing many of its countries. It is a giant that needs to be toppled.
Obi, UK

It's about time someone took the Commonwealth by the neck and gave it a big shake

Andrew C, Manchester, England
It's about time someone took the Commonwealth by the neck and gave it a big shake. The Commonwealth could be an organisation which helps poorer third world countries to develop through commerce and trade, which could be beneficial to both the rich and poor countries involved. The Commonwealth should provide mediation services between member states where there is a lot of tension such as India and Pakistan and the richer countries could help the poorer ones provide peacekeeping roles through the United Nations. The Commonwealth should begin to live up to its name and become a none-political organisation which brings wealth to all member states.
Andrew C, Manchester, England

Although it is not much use for Asian counties, I think this organisation provides some support to African countries. Although I agree with Andrew from Canada, I would say if it is not worth being a member of Commonwealth then they better quit from it.
Shan Mylvaganam, Ceylon/UK

African leaders who want to cling to power use the old the Black-White rivalry and colonial master versus the colonized to whip up sympathy for them. I feel sorry for unwary and myopic leaders who succumb to this trick! For might shall never make right.
Sammy W.I.Makilla, Dar es Salam, Tanzania

This organisation is a complete irrelevance

Malcolm, UK
Apart from the Commonwealth Games, this organisation is a complete irrelevance and only serves as a platform for despised and despotic leaders to adopt a veneer of respectability on the world stage.
Malcolm, UK

The Commonwealth does have one important function - it challenges the narrow-minded Euro-centricity of some Britons. It reminds them uncomfortably that independent, prosperous countries exist outside the eurozone.
Kyle, Australia

The criterion of membership is appalling and extremely insensitive. The UN is and should be the only institute for groups of nations to discuss universal political and other issues. Only regional alliances should be economically motivated.
Jee, India

Far from being outdated, the Commonwealth is more relevant and necessary than ever. It is a voluntary assembly of nations (comprising nearly one third of the population of the world) which have a common purpose - the promotion of equality and freedom. The role of the British Monarch as Head of the Commonwealth is symbolic of this and in no way defines the UK as more or less important a member. Naturally, the whole thing has come about as a result of former British Imperialism, but that is history which cannot be changed. What can be changed is the future and the Commonwealth can act as a positive medium for change to the benefit of the whole world.
Ian, UK

I like the Commonwealth. So what if it is basically little more than an international cricket league? What harm does it do? It is simply an alliance that fosters goodwill and understanding among its members. You can't have too many friends in this world.
Hugh Payne, York, England

The Commonwealth has proved worse than a sticking plaster on a broken leg in the matter of Zimbabwe

Sue Hudson, London, UK

As the Commonwealth has proved worse than a sticking plaster on a broken leg in the matter of Zimbabwe, and just provides a few flag-wavers with a few minutes enjoyment when her Majesty visits, I think it's time to scrap it!
Sue Hudson, London, UK

What is this 'still deliver' question ? The Commonwealth had no effect whatsoever on Apartheid, and the only members who took it seriously even then were Canada and Australia, who by 'pure chance' happened to compete in the same markets for raw materials The Commonwealth does good, often unsung work in monitoring elections etc. but has about as much effect upon the tyrants within it as the Brownies.
DominiConnor, Lonodn,IK

The Commonwealth seems to serve only one good reason, that is to give the Queen somewhere to visit. Judging by the comments on this page there seems to be an impression that the British have some desire to be reminded of the empire. But most Britons give very little thought to our past empire and are more concerned with the present. As for a trading block, economically it has a lot less to offer than Europe!
Andrew, UK

The world is awash with these multi-nation groupings - the EU, with its crazy directives; the seemingly toothless old beast of the United Nations; the narrow-band membership NATO. And then we have the Commonwealth; the phoenix from the shameful ashes of the British Empire, when one country took its arrogance to never-before-seen extremes. I used to see the Commonwealth as a kind of 'old subjects' club, where you got to be a member if the British had subjugated you. Now though, it would be excellent to make it what the EU could have been - a common-cause and help forum, where the UK can repay some of the damage it caused by helping poorer/developing members along, removing boundaries but celebrating differences and promoting that which is unique that can benefit. Things like sanctions are pointless, though, unless they hit where they actually hurt. Is a power-mad dictator really that bothered about suspension from the Commonwealth?
Steve Brereton, UK

The problem with the Commonwealth is that it has no real ability to punish its members when they violate the organisations principles.
Peter, UK

The Commonwealth is a complete waste of money. The UK should concentrate on its own people.
Nigel, UK

The Commonwealth is still relevant. But it would be much better if it could build a trade zone within itself so that its much poorer members can benefit. The Commonwealth is one of the few organisations in the world that spans a host of cultures yet is united by a common past of being affiliated with the British Empire. For the Commonwealth to move forward it needs to defend its members and assist them.
Oliver John , Netherlands (Nigerian Expat)

Talking PointFORUM
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See also:

02 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
CHOGM diary: Kitted out in bibs
01 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Quick guide: The Commonwealth
01 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Timeline: The Commonwealth
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