Climate Change Issues Dominate Commonwealth Summit.

Commonwealth leaders agree to admit Rwanda.

Douglas Mpuga

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) concluded late Sunday in Trinidad and Tobago’s capital, Port of Spain. The three-day summit of the Leaders of the 53-nation body issued a declaration on Saturday that backed upcoming climate change talks in Copenhagen meant to draft a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol.

They also agreed to admit Rwanda as the 54th member. A former colony of Germany and Belgium, Rwanda now joins Mozambique as the only Commonwealth members with no past colonial or constitutional links to Britain.

However, climate change discussions dominated the three-day summit. “We have not been impressed by this CHOGM. First of all, it has been so dominated by climate change issues, all other issues have been put on a black banner,” said Henry Gombya, the editor-in-chief of Straight Talk Chronicle, an online newspaper, who is in the Port of Spain to cover the summit. 

He said issues of concern to the commonwealth such as poverty, hunger, displaced people in places like Darfur [Sudan] and problems in eastern Asia, all these issues have not been discussed.”Gombya said the leaders have not yet issued a unified statement on their stand on climate change but there is a lot of discussion.

He said that the issue of admitting Rwanda into the commonwealth was not easy because at some point “some leaders were opposed and they wanted to stop that admission [of Rwanda] but eventually Rwanda was admitted.”

Gombya said any country is free to apply to join the Commonwealth and Rwanda had expressed interest many years ago. “Rwanda has been trying to join for the last 16 years,” he said, “especially since [President Paul] Kagame became president and Rwanda’s membership has been pushed very hard by Ugandan president [Yoweri] Museveni.”

Gombya noted that the presence of other non-commonwealth leaders who attended this summit for the first time might have contributed to the altering of the agenda. For the first time ever the Secretary-general of the United Nations attended a commonwealth summit.

As well as Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, two other non-commonwealth leaders also flew into the Caribbean country to take part in climate change talks, as leaders across the world look for a binding commitment in the Danish capital next month.

President Nicholas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen of Denmark –who will chair the United Nations sponsored talks next month – both spoke with commonwealth leaders and attended a special session on climate change.
Gombya said the presence of these other leaders took attention away from the actual agenda of the summit.

 “There has been, for instance, so much silence about what has been achieved since the last CHOGM summit in Kampala,” he said, adding that “climate change seems to be the main focus of most delegates.”

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