Just last month, Jamaica received a visit from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, familiarly known as “Will and Kate.” As the eldest son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, William may become King of England one day. However, the winds of change are blowing in short, sharp gusts across the Caribbean, and the royal visitors experienced one of those squalls – perhaps not unexpectedly. The reception in Jamaica was mixed, to say the least. The call for reparations (or at least an apology) grew louder among some Jamaicans. Others quietly welcomed and enjoyed the visit – the silent majority, perhaps.
Now, the visit was in honor of Will’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II’s 70th Anniversary – her Platinum Jubilee. Her Accession Day was February 6, 1952. “Her Majesty is the Queen of Jamaica,” states the royal website.
We also learn that:
The Queen’s Royal style and title is Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of Jamaica and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth.royal.uk website
Now, the Commonwealth of Nations consists of 54 independent countries in Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Pacific, with a total population of over two billion. 42 of these countries are small, with populations of 1.5 million or less. By the way, the island of Barbados, which is among these small states, remains a member of the Commonwealth, although the Queen is no longer its Head of State as of last November. Nevertheless, the narrative goes that Queen Elizabeth is devoted to the Commonwealth, has “passionately defended it,” and considers it her greatest achievement. Her son, Prince Charles, is to succeed her as Commonwealth leader.
The members meet every two years at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. This year’s meeting will be in Kigali, Rwanda during the week of June 20, 2022 (the exact dates aren’t quite clear). Interestingly, and I would say not coincidentally, the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, is to visit Jamaica next week (again, the dates are not clear).
I say perhaps not coincidentally – because news broke just yesterday (April 1, 2022) that Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness has nominated his Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, as a candidate for the post of Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. When President Kagame arrives here, I am sure they will have quite a bit to talk about.
The position of Secretary-General is currently held by The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC (Baroness Scotland), who was nominated by Dominica in 2015. She was born in Dominica and migrated to the UK at the age of two. She is the first woman Secretary-General. Will she be succeeded by another Caribbean woman?
The Prime Minister’s press release is as follows:
The Government of Jamaica is pleased to announce the candidature of Senator the Honourable Kamina Johnson Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, for the post of Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. A decision on the appointment of a Secretary-General is to be made during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, to take place from 20th to 25th June 2022 in Kigali, Rwanda.
Minister Johnson Smith, Jamaica’s first female Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, who was first appointed in 2016, is eminently qualified for the post. She has held several crucial leadership posts both regionally and internationally, having served as President of the OACPS Council of Ministers, Chair of CARIFORUM and the CARICOM Council on Trade and Economic Development. She has represented Jamaica at numerous bilateral, regional, hemispheric, and international encounters, and was the first Jamaican Foreign Minister to be invited to G7 and G20 ministerial meetings. Jamaica is currently the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Coordinator within the World Trade Organisation, a role headed by Minister Johnson Smith.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness said, “The Government of Jamaica has every confidence in Minister Johnson Smith’s abilities to build bridges and consensus, bringing governments and peoples to a common understanding. Her qualifications for the post of Secretary-General, including her high moral character, diplomatic and political acumen, proven competence, and commitment to the work of the Commonwealth make her an excellent candidate. She will bring a wealth of experience to the position, and is committed to international public service, with special regard for sustainable development, gender and the interests of small states, which will contribute significantly to the work of the Organisation towards 2.5 billion citizens of the Commonwealth.”
Minister Johnson Smith is an attorney-at-law who worked previously in private practice and as corporate in-house counsel and holds a Bachelor of Arts in French, a Bachelor of Laws and a Master of Laws in Commercial Law. Minister Johnson Smith speaks French as a foreign language.
Senator Johnson Smith is currently serving in her second term as Leader of Government Business in the Senate.
Interestingly, yesterday Baroness Scotland welcomed the new Rwandan High Commissioner to the UK, to talk about the upcoming meeting in his country.
Two more points to note that I think have bearing on this matter: Firstly, I noted the Prime Minister’s reference to Minister Johnson Smith’s “high moral character.” Unfortunately, the currently serving Secretary-General has been under quite a cloud for quite some time. For the past couple of years, a number of media reports have appeared questioning some of Baroness Scotland’s actions. There have been several allegations of cronyism, contracts given to friends, and more. Google will reveal many of these reports – from across the Commonwealth. The UK Government has been uncomfortable with what the media has been calling a “scandal.”
Secondly, this might seem to suggest that there is a rift in the Caribbean Community over the next Secretary-General. At the recent Inter-Sessional Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government in Belize, the post-meeting Communiqué noted:
Heads of Government expressed their overwhelming support for the re-election of Baroness Patricia Scotland as Secretary-General of The Commonwealth.caricom.org website
In light of this “overwhelming support” for the Baroness, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, is hot under the collar about Minister Johnson Smith’s candidature. So, is CARICOM not going to support Minister Johnson Smith? The usual questions are being asked by some Jamaicans: What is the point of CARICOM? Is it truly united?
Prime Minister Browne describes Baroness Scotland as a “Caribbeaner” (a new phrase to me) and seems to believe that not only will the candidature split CARICOM, but will also result in the Caribbean missing out on the rest of its term, which will end in 2024 when African candidates will be put forward.
The Antiguan PM says rather huffily:
Those who are hounding Baroness Scotland out of office have now skilfully engineered a plan to divide Caricom and to stain the performance of the region.
We must not fall prey to these Machiavellian tactics. Despite the pledges of support, there is some level of naivety for Jamaica to believe that the success of its candidature will be assured.
To the contrary, it would only serve as a gateway for a non-CARICOM secretary general to succeed.”Source: Barbados Today
I do believe Minister Johnson Smith is a “Caribbeaner” too. I wish her every success, and may the best woman win.