Leaders of 54 countries in the British Commonwealth are meeting in Rwanda to discuss trade, food security, health issues, and climate change. The summit comes as Britain and Rwanda are facing criticism on a controversial migrant deal.
Commonwealth member states are meeting for the first time in four years to discuss ways to strengthen relations and tackle global problems ranging from health care and conflict to climate change and food security.
Speaking in Rwanda’s capital of Kigali and representing Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s Prince Charles said such a political union is still needed to overcome the world's challenges.
“I treasure the friendships we have built over these past 70 years and look forward to their deepening in the years ahead," Charles said. "As we build back from the pandemic that has devastated so many lives, as we respond to climate change and biodiversity loss that threatens our very existence and as we see lives destroyed by the unattenuated aggression of violent forces, such friendships are more important than ever.”
Rwanda is the newest country in the 54-member Commonwealth, and host of this year's meeting.
The East African nation’s president, Paul Kagame, said his country became a member of the union to benefit from its unity and development.
“Everything we do, including joining the Commonwealth in 2009, is aimed at making sure that our people are connected, included and forward looking," Kagame said. "We are delighted that through CHOGM you have the opportunity to know us and we aim to repay that trust with many years of continued friendship.”
Gabon and Togo are also set to join the Commonwealth. The West African nations will be the latest countries to become members of the union that have no ties to Britain.
The head of the Horn Institute for Strategic Studies, Hassan Khannenje, says Britain wants to strengthen the union after leaving the European Union in 2016.
“It’s one way for Britain after Brexit to reestablish a relationship with the Commonwealth, but also it signals the kind of interest Britain has acquired, especially in Rwanda’s role within the Commonwealth as a new member in trying to strengthen the Commonwealth relationship, especially in the wake of Brexit that has affected UK’s standing in the world in ways may affect it economically," Khannenje said.
In April, Britain and Rwanda reached an agreement that allows the UK to send asylum seekers to Kigali, a deal that has been sharply criticized by human rights defenders.
However, speakers made no mention of the deal or the controversy surrounding it.
The union discussed how to mitigate the effect of climate change in the member states.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said some countries are facing existential threats from global warming.
“No one understands better than our Commonwealth friends in the Caribbean, the Pacific, the Indian Ocean who can see the incoming tides surging ever higher up their beaches, threatening to inundate their villages and towns and in time the entire land mass of some island states," he said. "For them the baleful effects of climate change aren’t vague or theoretical but already happening before their eyes.”
During the meeting the Commonwealth provided $38 million to help the countries most affected by the changing climate.