As Prince Charles anchors the Commonwealth, the challenges ahead

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) – Prince Charles has become the first British royal to visit Rwanda, representing Queen Elizabeth II as the ceremonial head of the Commonwealth at a summit where both the 54-nation bloc and the monarchy remain uncertain. encounter.

Royal historian Ed Owens said that the 73-year-old heir to the British throne may find that “on becoming head of the Commonwealth, he finds himself in charge of a rapidly disintegrating organisation.” But Charles’ decades of commitment to environmental issues could prove to be an asset with the bloc that includes low-lying island states on the front lines of climate change, he said.

“His care for the climate, his concern about the environment is very real,” Owens said.

This week’s summit in Rwanda will address challenges such as climate change and lifting millions out of poverty.

Charles was officially named in 2018 to succeed the Queen as the ceremonial head of the Commonwealth, although some have suggested that a non-royal leader would give the Commonwealth a modern profile. He is standing in for the 96-year-old queen at the bloc’s summit for the second time, first doing so in 2013 in Sri Lanka, which was seen as a preparation for her future role as monarch.

The Commonwealth itself struggles to forge a strong identity. It faces criticism for not doing enough to look after the economic interests of poorer members, including Rwanda. The group’s weakness, mostly in former British colonies, is that it is not a trading bloc at a time when trade is what most nations want.

With China as Africa’s largest trading partner, some critics say the Commonwealth risks becoming a largely formal grouping.

“The challenge for the Commonwealth was always how developed nations could help poor countries transform themselves economically,” said James Mugume, a retired diplomat in Uganda who helped organize the Commonwealth summit in 2007.

Wealthy members of the bloc “use it for soft power, but when it comes to real issues, such as how to increase trade and market access, that’s the challenge,” Mugume said.

While the Queen is widely respected at home and abroad, Charles’ relationship with the public is more complicated. Days before the flight to Rwanda, the Times of London newspaper reported that they had called a British government plan to send asylum seekers in Britain to Rwanda “horrendous”.

The anonymously sourced report was widely seen as an attempt to do away with the controversial — and, critics say, illegal — policy, which threatened to affect his travels. Legal challenges halted the flight that would have brought the first group of asylum seekers days before the summit.

Charles has lauded the Commonwealth’s ability to drive change on issues such as climate change and opportunities for young people, “and, in doing so, to become a unique force for good.”

The need to benefit every member of the Commonwealth has emerged as a strong theme this week, with people calling for a more dynamic bloc.

“We must ensure that no one is left behind, such as small and developing countries,” Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame said on Tuesday, adding that he would like to see a bloc in which “when we talk about the Commonwealth”. So, we really mean the Commonwealth. Not common for some of the many 54 countries.”

The bloc, with member states ranging from vast India to tiny Tuvalu, faces a new challenge as some discuss the removal of the queen as head of state. She is the head of state in 14 Commonwealth territories, but Barbados broke ties with the monarchy in November, and several other Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, say they plan to follow suit.

While countries can remain in the Commonwealth if they become republics, it adds to the uncertainty surrounding an organization that the Queen’s strong personal commitment has helped unite.

Questions remain about the value of the bloc among poor member states, with some critics mocking Africa’s ties with an organization they believe to be tainted by the memory of slavery and colonialism.

“Look at the case of the hosts of this year’s (Commonwealth Summit). Rwanda was a colony not of the British but of the Belgians… It’s like the village belle who abandons one bully and falls into the arms of another so that the former is jealous, but still enjoys the privilege and security of living with the mighty . Analyst Nicolas Sengoba in a column for Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper.

Rwanda joined the Commonwealth in 2009 after severing ties with former beneficiary France over its alleged responsibility for the 1994 genocide of Rwanda.

In Rwanda, Charles will meet with genocide survivors and perpetrators, visiting a church where the remains of thousands of victims are buried.

___ Lawless reported from London.

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