The Commonwealth was formed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century out of the massive British Empire. For hundreds of years, the dominance of British trade and the Royal Navy had made Britain the centre of the world with an empire on which the sun never set. It’s founded however on an outdated colonial system of dominion over ‘lesser states’ where Britain was the imperialist power that crushed and oppressed those who were unfortunate enough to become subjects of the British crown. It is fair to say, not all dominions suffered in such a way, but most were treated harshly. It wasn't until the Imperial Conference of 1926 that the other states within the Commonwealth were treated as equal and were regarded as being in no way ‘inferior’. However, the fact remains that membership in this fifty-three strong club it not based on trade or congruent politics. It’s based on a joint history of oppression and ludicrous dominion over previously free people. If there is a need for the mashing together of diverse, non-English speaking nations for a network of trade and technical support for developing nations, then surely such an organisation should be truly global and not exclusive to previous oppress-ees.
It’s true that the idea of the Commonwealth is noble. A community of member states, committed to the pursuit of peace, universal equality and democracy. Setting aside possible issues with those ideals, the question of whether this is firstly pragmatic and secondly currently being achieved. Dealing with the practicality of imposing these ideals of massively diverse and different cultures throws up its own problems which are not addressed successfully. How can the ideals of an oppressor from thousands of miles away ring true in a small African tribe? Or how can it ensure these ideals are upheld? The answer is simple, the Commonwealth cannot.
Secondly, has it been achieving these high standard ideals? The answer is of course no. Despite declarations in Singapore in 1971 and Harare in 1991, the Commonwealth has no means of enforcing their ideals. The vacuous declarations condemning racism, sexism and ironically oppression have achieved very little to stop human rights abuses in Africa alone. It took over two years for any kind of action beyond a letter of disapproval over the Nigerian execution of opposition activists and often any sanctions are repealed or forgotten before the injustice is duly paid for.
As an international organisation, it is not needed. Organisations such as the UN and Amnesty International already promote peace, justice and human rights on a truly global level, so why should there be a need for a smaller inclusive group? Even the trade aspect of the Commonwealth is dwarfed by trading blocs such as the EU, NAFTA and ASEAN, who have real political interest in fostering international trade on a global level. The Commonwealth is duplicating actions already performed to a better and more consistent level by other, larger and more competent organisations.
The idea of a Commonwealth community where all are equal is shambolic. The more powerful member states such as Britain, exploit their power and wealth to mould the Commonwealth the suit self -serving political aims. In 1986, Britain refused to sanction South Africa, although the rest of the Commonwealth voted to do so. Also, Britain went against the entire Commonwealth by not protesting French nuclear testing in the South Pacific. Such actions, or in this case, non-action show that the Commonwealth is no different from the imperialist British Empire; serving the interests of Britain firstly, before dealing with the morals and ideals she promotes and upholds.
So back to the Commonwealth Games. For Glasgow it’s a temporary cash-cow, in the perfect position to whip up nationalist sentiment. Maybe it’s good to come together to celebrate our shared history with people across the world in politics free sporting events (although politics free is far from the truth) but that is where it should remain; a celebration of history, not a continuation of the oppression and the self-service to a by-gone era of imperialism.