A few quibbles before we jump into the white-waters. First off, much as we despise Mugabe and Museveni, Marxism and Christianity, which are singled out for their ill effects, took specially strong root in brown land via the earnest efforts of white men who were eager to lift brown people out of darkness. We can hardly fault brown-folks now if they have learned their lessons too well and decide to stay faithful to their borrowed tenets.
Also it seems (to a neutral observer) that you have to take the good with the bad (just like the colonial project itself). While one set of white bible-peddlers helped cover breasts in Kerala, another set of WBPs are helping to expose necks in Uganda (in a non-erotic manner). And marxism is good (if for nothing else) for scaring the shit out of crony capitalism, all the trees in central India would have probably disappeared in the absence of the Red Army.
The author engages in a bit of white-washing as well. Australia (also NZ) was not really empty space settled by British emigrants, there did exist a native population which was wiped out with or without deliberate malice. That such a fate escaped India was not for a lack of trying (large fractions of population under white rule perished with regular frequency, for some reason this phenomena stopped post-1947).
To end on a positive note, the author does admit that (baby) George cant do it all by himself, he will need an (adult) Mandela by his side. Just like Gandhi was considered a recruiting agent for the British-Indian army to fight WWI on behalf of their colonial masters. Amidst all the confusion that is state-craft these days, it is always a good practice to underline the obvious.
I must admit to being something of a Commonwealth sceptic. The way
Britain largely abandoned the organisation of its former colonies and
dominions when it joined Europe in 1973 was, to many of us, utterly
shameful. Blood is thicker than water, however, and when one experiences
the importance of democratic values — as one does when talking to a
Commonwealth people who live under threat of invasion and within earshot
of sabre-rattling — it is rather humbling.
The British government these days certainly does take the
Commonwealth seriously. This may be partly an effect of the mounting
disillusion with Europe, but it is also because of a new recognition
that the ties of shared history binding the Commonwealth count for
something significant in an increasingly unstable world.
This is also
true in Australia, a country infinitely larger and more populous than
the Falklands, but built on the same values and a common pioneer spirit.
A recent poll showed that support for the idea of a republic in
Australia has fallen by 15 per cent since the referendum of 1999,
suggesting that the Anglo-Saxon notion of a constitutional monarch and a
non-political head of state continues to hold great attraction even in
the 21st century.
But before one gets carried away on a tide of nostalgic affection for
the idea of the Commonwealth, one should pause to consider the
fragility of the institution itself. Word is that behind the scenes at
the last Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka in the autumn of 2013
there were some fraught discussions based not on cultural
misunderstandings but on sheer cultural differences between some of the
One is loath to talk about a ‘white Commonwealth’, but there
does seem, with certain important exceptions, to be a measure of
polarisation between those countries that were settled by British
emigrants and those that were conquered and colonised by them.
Zimbabwe was suspended from the club for serial human rights
violations under the Mugabe regime in 2002; and it chose to leave the
organisation altogether in 2003, determined not to accept the view that
other nations had of it. Since then certain other black African
countries have lobbied relentlessly to allow its readmission, despite
the evidence that nothing much has changed in Zimbabwe, and will not do
so until Mugabe (who has just celebrated his 90th birthday) has gone to
the final reckoning.
One of those interceding on Mugabe’s behalf is Jacob Zuma, whose own
conduct of office in South Africa increasingly leaves much to be
desired: Nelson Mandela he is not. South Africa is seen as increasingly
corrupt, cronyist, dangerous and authoritarian, and it sits increasingly
uncomfortably within a Commonwealth template of advancing democracy,
civilisation and political integrity.
It would be fatal for the Commonwealth to become polarised between
‘white’ and ‘black’ countries, not least because some nations whose
rulers are not of Anglo-Saxon descent behave perfectly reasonably and
honourably. Yet there is a growing challenge as some nations within the
family behave in a fashion unacceptable in polities such as Australia,
Britain, Canada or New Zealand.
At the end of February Yoweri Museveni,
the president of Uganda, signed into law a Bill making homosexuality
(which was already illegal) and same-sex marriages crimes punishable by
life sentences, and the promotion of homosexuality a crime carrying a
still heavy sentence of seven years. Hitherto such sanctions as existed
applied only to men: now lesbians will feel the force of the law too.
After the furore surrounding President Putin’s homophobic policies in
the context of the Sochi Winter Olympics, it will be hard for the
Commonwealth to turn a blind eye to Uganda locking up people for life
because they are homosexual; we must wait and see.
In an ideal world, an institution such as the Commonwealth would lead
all its members along the path to enlightenment. The most significant
country in this respect is India, which has become progressively more
westernised as it has put its considerable economic and human capital to
work on becoming one of the great business success stories of the 21st
centuries. Without considerable leadership from the non-white
Commonwealth, extending the values of Australians, Britons and
Falklanders into parts where they hitherto have not reached may be
problematic at best, and impossible at worst.
Had South Africa produced
another Mandela, he — or she — would have had this leadership role,
because (other than Pakistan, which has nightmares all of its own) the
part of the Commonwealth where those values are most under threat is the
collection of Britain’s former colonies and possessions in Africa. It
used to be called the white man’s burden; but in the interests of good
government, liberty, prosperity and decent human rights it can no longer
be his alone.