What does Jamaican politician Kamina Johnson Smith’s candidacy for Commonwealth Secretary General say about Caribbean political solidarity? Global Voices
On April 21, at Jamaican High Commission in London, Kamina Johnson-SmithJamaican Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, officially launched his application for the position of Commonwealth Secretary General.
The holder of this position, who is currently a lawyer and politician born in Dominica and brought up in the United Kingdom Patricia Scotlandheads the Commonwealth Secretariat, the organization that serves the Community of Nationsa group of 54 members from former British colonies.
The announcement of Johnson Smith’s candidacy was not without controversy, however, starting with the fact that it seemed to come out of nowhere. About a month before Johnson Smith threw his hat in the ring, members of the Caribbean community (CARICOM) had met and agreed support the incumbent for a second term.
This was in line with the Prime Minister of Antigua and then the President of CARICOM, Gaston Browne, on September 14, 2021. statement that the Commonwealth has “held to the tradition of at least two terms for a Secretary General and to the principle of rotation between regions”. At the time, the African, Asian and Pacific regions of the Commonwealth themselves presented potential candidates to face Scotland, mired in accusations of impropriety regarding issues of transparency and the expenditure of public funds, to which she gave an official response through the secretariat.
A potential challenger, Kenyan Energy Minister Monica Juma, had announced its offer for the position in August 2021, then later got outbut the mere fact that there were challengers did not please the Antiguan Prime Minister at all, who maintained, “This goes against the principle of rotation which would see Africa assume the post of Secretary-General in 2024 when the Caribbean’s term would normally come to an end, followed in turn by the Pacific.” However, this concept of “turns” is not consecrated under Commonwealth rules.
Browne has since called Johnson Smith’s candidacy for Commonwealth Secretary General is a “monumental mistake” on the part of Jamaica.
Given that a month earlier, during a royal visit to the Caribbean as part of the celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee year, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness had expressed to Prince William the intention of his country to consider becoming a republic, following in the footsteps of Barbados, which acquired this status on November 30, 2021, the highlighting of Johnson Smith seems a little ironic. Prime Minister Andrew Holness, however, has maintained that there is no connection between the appointment of Johnson Smith and Jamaica’s desire to become a republic.
While the final outcome of the candidacy for the post of Secretary General will be decided at the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kigali, Rwanda, which runs from June 20-25, the battle between Johnson Smith and Scotland has been the source of much discussion in the Caribbean, particularly around the issue of a divided CARICOM bloc.
As early as April 13, regional reporter Wesley Gibbings wrote a column about the “multilevel fiasco,” which he observed contained “procedural, political and perceptual (cognitive) layers”. To draw attention to the “language” of a Press release of March 3 regarding the work of the intersessional meeting in Belize, Gibbings wrote:
There is a huge difference between the content of a public statement and the official record of proceedings. Some of us who monitor the process have been inclined to push for more disclosure to ensure greater precision in the public articulation of issues raised and agreements reached.
Had that been the case, everyone would have known that when the subject of candidacy came up, there was no unanimous agreement or mention of Jamaica’s active interest in the matter.
Knowing more about what really happened at the meeting, and what was not reflected in the one-sentence statement on the subject, would have allowed for a more nuanced use of the word “overwhelming” support and not “unanimous” for Scotland.
Equally important, Gibbings reminded the region of the backstory. In 2015, a majority of CARICOM supported the candidacy of the diplomat from Antigua/Barbud Ronald Sander. But then, Dominica, the island of Patricia Scotland birth, named her instead, pushing her “Caribbean-ness” as part of her election campaign. Scotland, who was brought up in the UK and held a few very high positions in the UK, won – and although she never denied her West Indian roots, she had never openly traded on them that is, before this appointment.
Twitter, meanwhile, echoed Gibbings feelings that “the ‘political’ layer of the fiasco has collapsed into a toxic swamp of insults, chauvinist demagoguery and general ignorance about the role of the regional movement”:
We have been talking about regionalism for decades. Decades! The nations of the Caribbean have never united except through sport. & even then…
The Caricom dream is dead.
We don’t trade fairly.
We do not encourage ease of travel. We treat certain groups with disdain.
Admit it and move on
– Georgia’s Child (@Georgia_sChild) April 3, 2022
Nonetheless, Gibbings opined that because Caribbean leaders settle most issues “by consensus with relatively little ado”, CARICOM, like any geopolitical grouping, has “a lot of things that need to be fixed”, but that does not does not amount to “terminal decomposition”.
However, an editorial in the Jamaica Gleaner, widely regarded as the country’s official newspaper, called the timing of Johnson Smith’s candidacy announcement “messy”, saying it had the potential to “confuse Rwandan President Paul Kagame”. . [recent] island visit,” as well as smearing “Johnson Smith’s prospects for a strong start to office, if elected. Kagame will chair the next meeting in Kigali where the secretary general will be appointed.
The editorial too worried about the possible interpretation “that Kingston is operating a stalking horse for others,” as well as the perception of “Jamaica’s foreign policy posture, similar to where it supported the Trump administration’s efforts to pull out Venezuela of the Organization of American States and stopped short of recognizing Juan Guaidó as president of Venezuela rather than Nicolás Maduro. CARICOM has effectively backed Maduro’s legitimacy.
And so, Jamaica is back in the regional nicheaccused of break ranks. In fact, Jamaica’s Attorney General, Marlene Malahoo Forte, has mentioned in the context of Johnson Smith’s candidacy for the post of Secretary General of the Commonwealth, that Jamaicans should put the country above regional concerns. Although Gaston Browne of Antigua has admitted that the region is by no means unanimous in its support for Scotland, he suggested that Jamaica was “encouraged by other countries who seek to divide us to create a path for the emergence of a candidate of non-CARICOM consensus”.
This tweet, from Jamaican lawyer Kenyatta Powell, seemed to agree:
The best way to understand what is happening with the appointment of Kamina Johnson is to observe the fact that the JLP is skeptical of CARICOM and that the white Commonwealth is using this fact to try to get rid of Baroness Scotland, that they intensely hate for, well, reasons.
— Kenyatta Powell (FORTIS FOREVER!) (@kenyatta_pow) April 2, 2022
He is be suggestedlargely due to a leaked June 2020 letter from the UK Prime Minister and current President of the Commonwealth Boris Johnson, who has claimed a ‘significant and diverse’ number of government leaders are opposed to Scotland’s reappointment, that the UK is one of those ‘other countries’ trying to hijack his support, apparently because of the optics around the allegations against her, none of which have yet been proven and all of which she has refuse.
Scotland is well connected, experimented, and triumphed over other rivals before; Johnson Smith, in spite of herself impressive resume, lobbying effortsand people’s faith in his capacity, is a newcomer to this field. By June 25, the decision will be made, although its potential effects on Caribbean unity remain to be seen.