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Commonwealth Africa Summit Focuses on Youth, Gender Equality

Flags of the Commonwealth being paraded through the Abbey at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London, March 12, 2018.
Flags of the Commonwealth being paraded through the Abbey at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London, March 12, 2018.

Delegates from across Africa are attending the Commonwealth Africa Summit in London – where the theme this year is the ‘Common Good’. Topics under discussion include climate change and improving gender equality. The Commonwealth has its origins in the British Empire – most members were former colonies - and Britain is hoping to rekindle those ties as it leaves the European Union.

Nineteen African countries are members of the Commonwealth – an organization that encompasses one-third of the world's population.

The opening summit address was given by Maria Fernandez De La Vega, president of the Women for Africa Foundation.

She said that “in the face of the ever-greater tolerance of inequality, we have to continue to cry out for equality." She said "the combination of young people and women together will allow us to take a new look at Africa.”

Issues like gender equality are being tackled by other institutions like the United Nations and the African Union. So what is the point of the Commonwealth? Sue Onslow is from the Institute for Commonwealth Studies at the University of London.

“There is a general interest and value which is attached to the Commonwealth as a political imagination, to the access and networks that it offers, to possibilities of best practice and indeed to emphasizing commonalities of working together,” she said.

Gambia was last month re-admitted to the Commonwealth after a four-year absence, following the democratic election of President Adama Barrow.

Zimbabwe has indicated that it may apply to re-join after it was suspended in 2002 following concerns over unfair elections.

Caroline Kampila - a Zimbabwean citizen living in London, attending the conference - hopes Zimbabwe will soon be readmitted.

“We’ve been isolated for such a long time and we really want to be where other people are, where other nations are,” she said.

Interest in the Commonwealth has also revived in Britain – where the government hopes increased trade could help to make up for any losses after leaving the European Union.

“Quite frankly I find that idea laughable because the Commonwealth is the antithesis, the very opposite of the EU as a bureaucratic, trading bloc,” said analyst Sud Onslow.

Nonetheless Britain is aiming to strengthen ties when it hosts the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting next month – when the leaders of all 53 member nations will gather in London and at the Royal Family’s residence at Windsor Castle.