Delano Franklyn | Kamina Johnson Smith’s defeat – A divided CARICOM and Africa
The Hon Kamina Johnson Smith, our minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, was defeated in her challenge against Baroness Patricia Scotland, by three votes, for the position of secretary-general of the Commonwealth. This is a classic example of how not to go about seeking a position in an international organisation.
Minister Johnson Smith and Prime Minister Andrew Holness broke all the conventional rules and protocols in their bid to unseat the incumbent, Baroness Patricia Scotland, who secured victory over Johnson Smith by a margin of 27 – 24 votes. A narrow victory but a victory nevertheless.
The move by Johnson Smith and Prime Minister Holness has divided the Caribbean Community. It has nothing to do with the personality, knowledge, or competence of Minister Johnson Smith. It has to do with a government that seems not to have a clearly defined foreign policy but makes decisions on the basis of which government asks it to do so.
They broke the long-standing tradition of a country from the Caribbean putting itself forward for an international position only when it has the full backing and support of a united Caribbean Community.
JAMAICA’S ABOUT TURN
We will recall that at the Inter-sessional Summit of Heads of CARICOM, held in Belize in March 2022, Jamaica, represented at that meeting by Minister Johnson Smith, gave its support for the retention of Baroness Scotland to finish her second term in office.
A few days later, on April 1, without informing his fellow Caribbean heads, Prime Minister Holness, while on a visit to the United States, caused a press release to be issued from his office in Jamaica, announcing the candidature of Minister Johnson Smith as Jamaica’s candidate for the post of secretary general.
This announcement caught the other Caribbean leaders by surprise. It led Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, to say that Jamaica had committed a “monumental error” and that it seemed that Jamaica was playing to the tune of the British government.
It turned out, thereafter, that from the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize, and Grenada publicly expressed support for Johnson Smith. The others kept quiet, which could be read as the not being in favour of Johnson Smith. The division in CARICOM, which has left the leadership fractured, did not work in her favour when the votes were counted. On the contrary, it worked against her and Jamaica.
To make matters worse, Johnson Smith unconventionally embarked upon a public relations campaign and country-hopping tour, costing the Jamaica taxpayers millions of dollars.
She hired a public relations company, which stated that it entered into a US$99,000, or over J$15 million contract, to undertake her campaign. The Government needs to inform us how much money was spent on her campaign. We would then be in a position to determine whether or not this was monies well spent, or it would have been better to use it to help with the healthcare or education of so many who are in need.
FRONTING FOR BRITISH GOVERNMENT
There are many persons who are of the view that Johnson Smith and PM Holness were fronting for the right wing Boris Johnson-led conservative government who is fighting for his political life, had stated, on more than one occasion, that he was not in support of the British Labour Party-aligned Baroness Scotland continuing as secretary general.
It is no surprise, therefore, that immediately after the vote was announced, The Guardian newspaper in Britain carried the headline, “Boris Johnson fails to oust Lady Scotland from Commonwealth role,’ and stated, “Boris Johnson’s attempt to unseat a Labour peer from the role of the Commonwealth Secretary- General has failed in another blow to his credibility”.
The Guardian newspaper went on to say that “No. 10 has been working behind the scene for nearly two years to remove Patricia Scotland”. It is a fact that Boris Johnson, over the two-year period, has been trying to find a candidate to replace Baroness Scotland. It seems as if he got hold of PM Holness and suggested or instructed that he put up his foreign minister as a candidate.
Although Johnson Smith has rubbished the suggestion that she was dancing to the tune of the British government, this view lingers for different reasons.
First, to date, the Government has not given a reason why it made a sudden about-turn and shifted its support from Scotland to Johnson Smith.
Second, to date, the Government has not explained what fault, if any, it had with Scotland, although we know that she has been accused, primarily by Boris Johnson’s government, of being involved in corrupt activities, which she has vehemently denied.
Three, to date, the Government of Jamaica has not explained what the benefit to Jamaica would be of having Johnson Smith as secretary general of the Commonwealth.
Now that Johnson Smith has lost, PM Holness has a duty to mend fences with his fellow heads in the Caribbean. He must start by apologising to those who he failed to inform that Jamaica had changed its mind about supporting Baroness Scotland. Nothing is wrong with him changing his mind, but to have done so without being up front and frank with his fellow heads is certainly not the way to go.
He must apologise to them for having put them in a spot of bother, where they had to choose between two Caribbean candidates.
He must apologise for breaking the cardinal principle of unity of purpose when candidates from the Caribbean are identified to fill elected positions in international organisations.
PM Holness also owes an apology to the heads of the African countries that are members of the Commonwealth.
Jamaica and Jamaican nationals have, over the years, gained so much respect in Africa that Jamaican candidates usually look forward to getting their support whenever candidates are put forward for positions in international organisations.
The leaders of the African countries are aware that Baroness Scotland’s tenure will end in the next two years, thus allowing for the position to be filled by someone from Africa.
The election of Johnson Smith would have offered no such guarantee as many of the leaders of the African countries were of the view that she had her eyes set on being in office longer than two years.
Minister Johnson Smith remained non committal on this issue during her campaign and, therefore, the African countries were not prepared to take the matter for granted that she would give up office after two years.
As a result, they were forced to vote against the land of Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, Michael Manley, P.J. Patterson, Portia Simpson Miller, and Usain Bolt, icons that they have come to love, cherish, and respect.
We must never again put our country in such a position on the international stage, where our natural allies and friends have to vote against us.
- Delano Franklyn is an attorney-at-law and the former minister of state in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org