‘Jamaica has gone out on a limb’
Browne urges Kingston to be wary of backers seeking to disrupt CARICOM
As further strife looms, CARICOM is now scrambling to organise an emergency session with the regional leaders after Jamaica again broke ranks, this time naming its own candidate for the post of secretary-general of the Commonwealth. Antigua and...
As further strife looms, CARICOM is now scrambling to organise an emergency session with the regional leaders after Jamaica again broke ranks, this time naming its own candidate for the post of secretary-general of the Commonwealth.
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said efforts are underway to have the meeting, hours after he accused Jamaica of making a “monumental error” in nominating Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Senator Kamina Johnson Smith for the post.
Jamaica’s decision has perplexed regional capitals because, just last month, the country was party to a CARICOM meeting where leaders gave their “overwhelming support” for the re-election of Baroness Patricia Scotland, the Dominica-born British lawyer who has fallen out of favour with London and a growing number of Commonwealth states.
Twelve CARICOM states, including Jamaica and Dominica, are members of the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth is a Queen Elizabeth-headed voluntary group of 54 countries, mostly former British colonies, with cooperation on issues such as human rights. It includes countries with republican status.
“Her qualifications for the post of secretary-general, including her high moral character, diplomatic and political acumen, proven competence ... make her an excellent candidate,” said Prime Minister Andrew Holness of Johnson Smith last Friday.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, praised for the post-genocide economic transformation of the East African nation, but also criticised for autocratic practices, is due to take over as chairman of the Commonwealth when his country hosts the group’s delayed biennial heads of government summit in June.
It is at that meeting that Scotland’s fate will be decided, and Johnson Smith, Jamaica’s first female foreign minister, will also seek to become the second woman to head the group.
Senior officials of Jamaica’s foreign service have declined to comment on the development, with one noting that the Government was forced to issue a statement “a little” earlier than intended.
Holness, Johnson Smith and Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke have been on an official visit to the United States. Holness is due to return today.
Browne, the only other CARICOM leader who has spoken publicly on Johnson Smith’s potential candidacy, said that while the Jamaican is a “great” candidate, he could not support her at this time, given CARICOM’s position, which he said has not changed.
Those points, he said, were raised in a discussion he had with Holness on Friday.
Foreign policy not consensus-driven
Jamaica has previously insisted that despite being a member of CARICOM, its foreign policy is not consensus-driven.
“Under normal circumstances, Andrew wouldn’t have to call me to support his candidate; it would be automatic support. … [But] we had a consensus within CARICOM and we all agreed that we will support Baroness Scotland for a second term,” he told The Sunday Gleaner yesterday.
“Jamaica has gone out on a limb,” added Browne, admitting that CARICOM is not unanimous in its support for Scotland.
The Antigua and Barbuda prime minister said that, so far, about four other CARICOM member states, which he did not name, are against Jamaica’s decision, with only one appearing to be willing to give Johnson Smith its support.
In recent years, the 15-member regional bloc has been wracked with divisions, largely involving the United States’ positions on Venezuela and the leadership of the Organization of American States, situations that have raised questions about the Holness administration’s commitment to CARICOM, especially with the ruling Jamaica Labour Party’s historical scepticism towards regional integration.
“Jamaica is being encouraged by other countries that are seeking to divide us to create a pathway for a non-CARICOM consensus candidate to emerge,” Browne said.
“Jamaica is being used. To some extent, I can understand the ambition. I have no difficulty with the ambition, but I think they have failed to look at the motive of those who’re encouraging them,” he added.
It is widely believed in diplomatic circles that the United Kingdom, which has reportedly lost confidence in Scotland, is the force behind Jamaica appearing to shred its March CARICOM commitment.
In a leaked June 2020 letter, UK prime minister and current Commonwealth chairman, Boris Johnson, said a “significant and diverse” number of heads of government had objected to the automatic renewal of Scotland’s contract for a second four-year term. The convention has been that incumbents are returned unopposed.
As COVID-19 prevented the leaders from meeting in 2020, the contract has been extended, but is now due for consideration in Rwanda later this year.
Scotland was heavily criticised in an audit report in 2020 over a £250,000 consultancy contract awarded to KYA Global, a company owned by a personal friend.
The firm was “apparently insolvent” at the time, with debts worth more than £40,000, and the Commonwealth Secretariat was reportedly unable to provide the auditors with KYA Global’s final report setting out its recommendations, according to British media reports.
However, Scotland, a former attorney general in a previous Labour government, denied allegations against her, insisting that all procurement rules were followed.
Australia and New Zealand reportedly briefly suspended or cut contributions over the scandal and other allegations of poor governance pushed by her enemies in Johnson’s Conservative government.
There were reports that the UK has been shopping for candidates to oppose Scotland and initially found an ally in Kenya, whose energy and petroleum minister, Dr Monica Juma, last year declared a bid for the top post.
However, Juma withdrew in February, conceding that her candidacy risked further divisions of member states.
“We have not coalesced consensus among all the member states, a situation that could precipitate a raucous campaign that could further fracture, rather than cohere, the Commonwealth family,” the Kenyan government said in a diplomatic note to Commonwealth members.
Jamaica has now emerged, but it is not clear the role the UK and other key Commonwealth funders such as Australia and New Zealand have played.
The UK has declined to say whether it is supporting Johnson Smith’s nomination, although a key government official, who declined to be named, told The Sunday Gleaner that Jamaica would not risk upsetting its CARICOM colleagues without the “explicit support of the UK”.
“A decision on the Commonwealth secretary-general is for heads of government to agree at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali in June,” a spokesperson for the British High Commission in Jamaica said yesterday.
A request for comment from the opposition People’s National Party was not answered.
The Jamaican prime minister needs to explain how the country’s support moved from Scotland to its own nominee within weeks, argued Curtis Ward, a former ambassador and deputy permanent representative of Jamaica to the United Nations, with special responsibility for Security Council affairs.
Ward said Jamaica’s decision could plunge the regional bloc into further division, widening the cracks that emerged throughout the Trump presidency in the United States.
“It is not only bad optics; it is bad policy if the Jamaican Government, before making this announcement, did not do widespread consultation with other CARICOM members,” he said.
Added Ward: “We need the prime minister to issue a statement or go before the press and explain the process that took place before making this announcement.”
The former diplomat said Kagame has used the 1994 genocide “to get away with lots of stuff in the eyes of the international community” and he does not see “much positive in his visit to Jamaica” this week, including whether it could be leveraged to win Jamaica votes.
“President Kagame is not a good example of someone who adheres to the principles of democracy. He has been president of Rwanda for 20 years and elections there are not exactly free and fair, and many would not dispute that his regime is autocratic. Political dissent and opposition are depressed by the Kagame regime,” he said.
Rwanda’s 2017 presidential elections, which saw Kagame winning 98.8 per cent of votes, took place “in a context of very limited free speech or open political space”, according to global watchdog Human Rights Watch.
But major accomplishments include strong economic growth accompanied by substantial improvements in living standards, with a two-thirds drop in child mortality and near-universal primary school enrollment, the World Bank has said, pointing to a growth average of 7.2 per cent over the decade to 2019.
The country is still recovering from a genocide in 1994 in which over a period of 100 days, between 800,000 and one million people were slaughtered by ethnic Hutu extremists who were targeting the minority Tutsi community.