HE Chief Olusegun Obasanjo
President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces
Federal Republic of Nigeria
Chairperson-in-Office of the Commonwealth

The Commonwealth in the 21st Century:
Prospects and Challenges
Institute of Education, University of London
Tuesday 15 March 2005

Members of Diplomatic Corps,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.

I bring you greetings from the Government and people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and thank the Secretary-General for giving me the privilege of delivering the Eighth Annual Commonwealth Lecture.
Nigeria attaches great importance to its membership of the Commonwealth. On the occasion of Nigeria's admission as the 99th member of the United Nations, the first Prime Minister, late Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, remarked that "Nigeria is proud of its membership
of the Commonwealth". Our country's post-independence history reveals the importance of its membership of this organisation. During the
Nigerian crisis of the 1960s which eventually led to the civil war in 1967, the Commonwealth was the first international organisation to attempt a solution of the crisis. Secretary-General Arnold Smith organised the first ever peace meeting between the Federal Government and the leaders
of the secessionist movement in Kampala, Uganda, in 1966. Thereafter, the Commonwealth took a stand to support the maintenance of Nigeria's territorial integrity. The Commonwealth's decision influenced the
attitude of other international organisations and leading world powers, which contributed immensely to Nigeria's survival.

Secretary-General, the Commonwealth has all along been
an important partner in the pursuit of our foreign policy objective. Our
organisation's commitment to democracy, human rights, rule of law and gender equality tallied with Nigeria's commitment to the liberation of
our hitherto oppressed brothers in Southern Africa and
the establishment of non- racial societies in that region. Indeed, I can state that when the Commonwealth was established a
number of Africans were initially suspicious and cynical of the aims and objectives of the organisation. To some, it was seen as no more than an
epilogue to Empire, and an effort to continue western domination in a different guise. But the record of the performance of the Commonwealth with regards to the liberation of Namibia, Zimbabwe and the collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa removed whatever suspicion that did exist as to the aims and objectives of the organisation.

The history of the Commonwealth's role in bringing about the collapse of the apartheid system in South Africa is too well known to be repeated here. The emergence of a non-racial government in South Africa is regarded in Africa as one of the greatest achievements of the Commonwealth and a ringing affirmation of what the organisation stands
for. Equally remarkable is the Reconstruction and Development Programme which the Commonwealth midwifed into existence in 1994 and which enabled the new state to take-off and have a good starting point. I cherish the memory of my participation as the co-chairperson of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) established at the Nassau Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 1985, the conclusions of which prepared the final diplomatic onslaught on the apartheid regime. The late Oliver Tambo, showing appreciation for the EPG, described the Group's report as "a watershed". On a more personal note I recall the stance which the Commonwealth took when the
leadership of my country fell under the command of a brutal military despot and under whose regime I suffered. While I have no regrets for the
stand I took in the struggle for democracy at that time, I know that but for the reaction of the international community which was
spearheaded by the Commonwealth I probably would not
be alive now. The facts mentioned above affected my reaction to the
invitation to deliver the Eighth Annual Commonwealth Lecture. The invitation was accepted with a deep sense of gratitude and seen as an opportunity to put forward my views as to how the Commonwealth should
conduct its affairs in the years ahead. The Foundations of Our Strength
In choosing to speak on the topic 'The Commonwealth in
the 21st Century: Prospects and Challenges' I have made a number of fundamental assumptions. The first of which is that the Commonwealth will continue to exist as an organisation that will be of benefit to its members and humanity at large. The second assumption is that
prospects do exist for the organisation to maintain and improve its record of service to humankind. The third assumption is that in
doing this, the organisation will face challenges arising from the nature of the global environment and the circumstances in which member
states of the organisation find themselves.
Secretary-General Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
the Commonwealth has come a long way. It has so far been a success. From its initial four members, membership has increased to 53 and includes almost all the former British colonies and even countries that
had only some tenuous connection with the British Empire. I am informed that as of now, a number of countries have formally or informally
applied for membership of the organisation. No one likes to join a losing team. Everybody wants to be with the winner. Indeed, judging from the respect accorded to the organisation by the international community, the importance which member countries attach to their membership of
the association, and the role which the organisation has played on various issues of global interest, it is easy to conclude that late
Arnold Smith, the pioneer Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, was correct when he declared in 1968 that "a hundred years from now, the
British will discover that the Commonwealth is one of their major contributions to history". The Commonwealth will continue to be a major player on the global scene. The challenge now is to consolidate its inherited strength, the achievements of the past, and use these as a basis for planning towards a better and more fulfilling future. In doing this, we must strengthen the organisation and its structures,
deepen our bonds, expand the scope of
our activities, build more viable networks within the
organisation and with other partners, and
define our priorities clearly at all times.
The strength of the Commonwealth lies in its origin,
its tradition, its diversity, as well
as its modus operandi. As I said earlier, it has
within its fold 53 countries, some developed
and most developing. Its 1.8 billion people constitute
more than a quarter of the human race.
They inhabit every continent and embrace virtually
every ethnic group. The Commonwealth
is not a special interest group, neither is it a
regional organisation. But the Commonwealth is
the only international organisation that has its
members in every conceivable international
organisation in the world. We must continue to build
on this strength and strive to make the
Commonwealth a household name all over the world,
known for its pro-people policies and
programmes and dedicated to the common good.

Post-Cold War Global Security

This is of particular importance in the light of the
international situation created by the end of
the Cold War. The international community universally
and rightly acclaimed the end of the
40-year period of dissipation of energy during which
division prevailed over unity, suspicion
over trust, and preparation for war over the provision
of peace. The growing friendship
between the East and West seems to have provided a
foundation on which global peace can
be built. But the end of the Cold War has presented a
new set of problems and challenges
particularly for the developing countries of the
world, 49 of which are Commonwealth
members. While the Cold War lasted, it was a bi-polar
world in which the USA and the
USSR dictated war and peace. Some of the weak nations
of the world exploited the situation
to further their interests. The great majority of
these countries attained independence in the
years of the Cold War during which the logic of that
confrontation served as the compass for
the conduct of their external relations and provided
the reference point for much else. Some
traded on their strategic position, others on the
value of their vote at the UN General
Assembly. So long as the Cold War existed, these
countries felt protected some how. But
with the end of the Cold War, some of them are now
faced with the problem of protecting
and enhancing their security and how to ensure that
the equality which is acknowledged to
exist between all sovereign nations irrespective of
size and resources, does not become in
practice a mere ceremonial phrase. The Iraq invasion
of Kuwait in 1990 and ironically
America's attack on Iraq in 2003 unfortunately tends
to heighten this fear.
No doubt, the United Nations has an important role to
play in the effort to guarantee
and protect the security of smaller nations and to
make the world a safer place for all. But it
will be unrealistic to assume that the UN alone can
achieve all the desired objectives. If the
efforts of the UN are to succeed, they will need to be
supported by those of other
organisations, including regional and sub-regional
organisations. The Commonwealth has an
important role to play in this regard and it is better
positioned than any other organisation to
do so.
The very nature of the Commonwealth puts it in an advantageous position to contribute to political stability and guarantee the
security and prosperity of its member
countries, and thus in the process contribute to a
safer world. First and foremost, the
Commonwealth can serve and has in fact been serving as
a bridge across the major divides of the world. Its 53 members come from all the continents and oceans of the world. It has a
common language and other elements of a common
heritage such as similar administrative
and legal systems which help its members to work
together. Deriving from this common
heritage, the Commonwealth can serve as an effective
platform for a more meaningful and
effective North-South dialogue. This will also prevent
the views and interests of developing
countries from being ignored and marginalised. The
post-Cold War era presents the
Commonwealth with boundless opportunities to redesign
and refocus on priorities that are not
coloured by the particular interests of the East and
West, and to mobilise its members for
those objectives that we all cherish.
The Commonwealth and the United Nations
Secretary-General, the founding fathers of the
Commonwealth had this role for the
organisation in mind when they emphatically proclaimed
that "one of the objectives of the
Commonwealth is the support for the UN and its
purposes". In Harare in 1991, the leaders
pledged to "work with renewed vigour to concentrate on
providing support for the UN and
other international organisations in the search for
peace, disarmament, effective arms control
and the promotion of international consensus on major
global, political, economic and social
One cannot help but be impressed with the manner in
which the Commonwealth
organisation has dealt with issues of global or
regional importance which directly concerned
our members, for example the eradication of apartheid
in South Africa and our cooperation
with the United Nations in Lesotho in 2001, in Papua
New Guinea in 1997, in Sierra Leone
between 1997 and 2000 and currently in Tanzania where
the Secretary-General is officially
designated as the moral guarantor of the Mwafaka
agreement. I was pleased to read from Mr
H Sekyi who reviewed our political programme, quoting
the UN Secretary-General as
expressing his appreciation for Commonwealth
co-operation in South Africa, Nigeria and
Sierra Leone. He expressed the hope, however, that
"the liaison and co-operation of the
Commonwealth will continue and be at a higher level
than hitherto". I will suggest that these
be done in such a manner which increases the
Commonwealth's profile. There should be an
intense monitoring of the political and social
conditions of the world and the identification of
a suitable niche for Commonwealth action.

Good Offices Role of the Secretary-General
Secretary-General, I am sure you will not be too
surprised of my recognition of the role
which our organisation played in restoring democracy
to my own country, Nigeria. It was the
Commonwealth that first sensitised the international
community to the excesses of the regime
that preceded mine but one. The response of the
international community contributed in no
small measure to the restoration of democracy in my
country. The combined effect of our
programmes on conflict resolution officially known as
the Good Offices role of the
Secretary-General, and the strengthening of democratic
values and electoral processes, have
served the Commonwealth well.
At Coolum, Heads of Government accorded due
recognition to the importance of the
Good Offices role of the Secretary-General and
directed that its scope be extended. The
reason is obvious. There can be no meaningful social
and economic development in an
atmosphere that is riddled with conflict. The Good
Offices role of the Secretary-General
which seeks to promote reconciliation, peace and
stability without prejudice to the
independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of
member states has been the flagship
programme of the Commonwealth Secretariat. I am aware
that over the last ten years, the
programme has dealt successfully with several
localised conflicts often exacerbated by
economic and environmental problems. It has been
observed that the programme is based on
the goodwill and informality that obtains within the
Commonwealth family, on its non-
partisan and non-threatening character, and on the
Secretary-General's close contact with
Heads of Government.
The Commonwealth has also established a good track
record of bridge building
without a hidden agenda and a good experience at
understanding and dealing with pluralism
at both national and international levels. The respect
for history, historical experience and
national specificities has endeared the Commonwealth
to millions around the world. This
trend should continue.
There is no doubt that the Commonwealth enjoys
comparative advantage in conflict
resolution over many other international
organisations. You should not rest on your laurels
but strive to do better. One way of doing this is to
ensure that in all attempts at conflict

resolution, the underlying and fundamental aspects of
the crisis should be studied
comprehensively as much as in depth and far in advance
as possible. The visible and
proximate causes are often merely the external
symptoms of a deep-seated malaise which
unless treated and removed will persist in generating
further symptoms, whatever palliatives
are found for the present ones. May I also suggest,
Secretary-General, that while continuing
to intensify efforts at conflict resolution by finding
lasting solutions to conflicts, you should
now begin to focus more attention on conflict
prevention. I believe you will discover that
preventing a conflict will be more cost-effective and
if eventually conflicts do occur the
solutions you provide will be more lasting.
Taking pre-emptive action in potential conflict
situations will certainly make your
assignments easier. You may wish to give consideration
to the establishment of something
like an Early Warning system. This will need the
establishment of a stronger Commonwealth
presence at least in areas suspected to be prone to
crisis. I am aware of the cost implication of
this suggestion. But a start can be made by using the
regional headquarters of the
Commonwealth Youth Programme located in each of the
regions as listening posts. I am a
very strong believer in the power of consultation,
dialogue, shared experience and collective
commitment to peace building, love, harmony,
understanding and social progress. If we pay
more attention to these values, we can better prevent
or manage conflicts.
Strengthening and Consolidating Democracy
Our programme on strengthening democratic values and
electoral processes has been in very
high demand and has won public acclaim. The training
programmes provided for electoral,
judicial and other officials in institutions that
strengthen democracy have gone far in
advancing the objectives of the Harare Commonwealth
Declaration. The practice of
observing elections has served to minimise fraud and
increased public confidence in the
electoral process. In some cases, Commonwealth
presence at elections has made the
difference between a politically stable environment
and one that continues to be plagued by
social and political crisis. One aspect of our
election observation process which interests me
is the practice of presenting recommendations designed
to improve the electoral process in
the member country. It is not enough to say whether or
not an election has been free and fair.
What is more important is the comment on the electoral
process and providing suggestions as
to how it could be enhanced and be made more
efficient, reliable, transparent and effective.

In our recommendations and suggestions the local
culture, environment and milieu must be
taken into consideration. For this reason the
composition of an Observer Group or Team is
also important.
Implementing Recommendations
Secretary-General, much as our democracy programme has
won great acclaim I am not too
sure of how viable our record of implementing the
recommendations of a Commonwealth
Observer Group is. I think that it is necessary to
improve our capacity for assisting member
governments to implement the recommendations of the
Commonwealth Observer Groups so
that between one election and the other, quantifiable
progress on improving the electoral
process can be identified. One serious obstacle to the
emergence of a stable democratic
culture is the fragility of political parties. In many
parts of the Commonwealth, very few
parties have survived the death or departure from
power of their first leaders. Most political
parties have been ephemeral formations usually put
together at election times and they
disintegrate as soon as they lose the elections. The
Commonwealth should assist and
encourage the emergence of political parties rooted in
lasting philosophies and manifestos.
After all, credible, well-organised, effective and
functioning political parties are the bedrock
of democratic political contestation.
We should also, in the post election period discourage
the notion of winner takes all.
The view of opposition political parties should be
respected and the leader of the opposition
where there is an official one should be accorded all
the respect due to his or her office. In
such a case we should promote the concept of the loyal
opposition. If the goal of all political
parties is to promote peace, security, growth,
development and democracy, then there must be
some minimum political foundations that we can support
to ensure political viability and
acceptable values that shape political engagements. At
election time, the Commonwealth
should intensify efforts to discourage the abuse of
incumbency. The ruling party should not
be allowed to use government resources to perpetuate
itself in power. A level playing field
should be established to accommodate and enhance
tolerance, inclusion, fair competition, and
broad democratic values and practice. I am, of course,
aware that some of the
recommendations will involve a fundamental
restructuring of the system with cost
implications. The challenge for the Commonwealth is to
lead that process and, if necessary,
seek support from like-minded organisations.

Democracy and Development
When in Coolum Heads of Government decided to
establish an Expert Group to deliberate on
democracy and development, it was an affirmation of
the interconnectedness of the two main
objectives of the Commonwealth. Forty-nine of our 53
member countries are officially
defined as developing. They are committed to the
fundamental political values of our
organisation. But at the same time, they are beginning
to ask for the concrete dividends of
democracy. To many of these countries, one very
important value of the Commonwealth is
the opportunity it provides, more than any other
international organisation, for them to have
first-hand personal contacts with leaders from the
developed parts of the world in pursuing
their developmental objectives. The recent move by the
Secretary-General to devote more
time at Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings for
the 'retreat' is a step in the right
The question some of the developing countries are
asking is why can't the developed
members of the Commonwealth spearhead policies and
programmes, within their countries
and other associations or clubs particularly of other
developed countries to which they
belong, that will advance the cause and interests of
the developing countries. Such issues as
overseas development assistance (ODA) and debt relief
easily come to mind. Here, one must
applaud the British Government's initiative of the
Commission for Africa and hope that while
consensus is being canvassed and mobilised for the
Report, the British Government will show
sufficient political will and courage to act according
to the Report and the Government
conviction. It can be done and it should be done. This
is the time, otherwise all credibility
will be lost.
We members of the African Union within the
Commonwealth will contribute in
whatever way we can to the attainment of the
objectives of the Commission. Equally
contributing is UK Chancellor Gordon Brown's plan for
a new Marshall Plan for Africa
which includes among others, writing off the debts of
the low-income nations and drastically
increasing aid budgets. This is an example of what the
Commonwealth can do.
Secretary-General, if the Commonwealth is to remain
relevant to these countries, it
must be seen to be contributing effectively to their
economic viability by addressing the
issues of debt, poverty, unfair trading systems, the
denial of market access and the ravages of
the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The Commonwealth must be seen
as an organisation that stands

by the highest standards and can be expected to, at
all times, be on the side of promoting
democratic values, supporting democratic
consolidation, encouraging holistic reforms, and
providing technical support as may be required by its
member states.
The case for Africa is compelling. The present grim
state of Africa should be seen as
a scar in the conscience of the world: a fact
recognised by Prime Minister Tony Blair. Despite
decades of developmental efforts, the lives of
millions of our people remain blighted by
scourges of poverty, hunger, disease and ignorance. In
2004, 191,000 people in sub-Saharan
Africa died each month from AIDS-related illnesses
alone. More than half-a-billion Africans
meanwhile survive on daily incomes that would be
unbelievable to children in the developed
world, and since 1981, living standards in the
Sub-Saharan region have actually deteriorated
with national incomes per head dropping by 10 per
cent. We are prepared to admit that part of
this problem is of our own making. Official
corruption, weak and incompetent leadership,
bad governance, fiscal indiscipline, excessive
dependence on foreign aid and neglect of
internal economic opportunities have been our bane. Mr
No berg, the free market campaigner
noted how in one of our countries it took the ruler
just five years to wipe out a third of the
national wealth, while poverty escalated and
agricultural production collapsed forcing the
inhabitants to struggfe with hunger, disease and"
Africans and their leaders are aware of these problems
and have already begun to take
actions to correct most of these ills. The
establishment of the African Union and the adoption
of the New Partnership for Africa's Development
(NEPAD) are symbols of our willingness
and our preparedness to take our destiny in our own
hands, by taking effective political and
economic actions to ensure political stability and to
improve the living standards of our
people. But we need support from the international
community on the basis of partnership,
common humanity and shared interest, and this is where
the Commonwealth comes in.
The developed countries of the world need to be
persuaded to remove the existing
trade barriers and open western markets to the
developing world. Free trade is one of the
most effective weapons in the fight against global
poverty. The iron curtains of protectionist
barriers in the form of tariffs on Third World goods
and subsidies of its own industries which
the Western world has imposed ought to be relaxed. As
of now, the steepest duties tend to be
imposed on the type of goods that the poor world can
most benefit from selling: agricultural
products, labour intensive manufactured goods and
commodities. Worse still, tariffs escalate

and raw commodities and produce are processed into
higher value added goods with the
effect that Third World nations are deterred from
building up manufacturing capacity at the
simplest level.
Commonwealth leaders pronounced on this matter in our
last meeting in Abuja. I am
pleased to note that the delegation of Commonwealth
Trade Ministers who visited world
financial capitals to solicit for an agreement on the
Doha Round of trade negotiations met
positive response. I hope that it will translate into
positive action. I am also encouraged by the
positive signals which emerged from the recent World
Economic Summit at Davos.
Commonwealth Secretariat Development Programme
Secretary-General, our developmental programme should
be intensified and invigorated. The
small size of the budget notwithstanding programmes
and projects organised by the
Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation (CFTC)
have contributed to the
achievement of the developmental objectives in many
developing member countries. It meets
special needs and bridges strategic gaps in
development which makes it different from other
multilateral institutions. It has proved to be
responsive to modest requests for assistance and
has the flexibility to manage small projects. In
addition, it provides easy access to member
countries particularly small states, because it is not
encumbered by elaborate protocol or
multiple hierarchies. But, Secretary-General, you need
to take care of some of the identified
weaknesses of the CFTC operations in order to increase
its effectiveness. The size of the
CFTC annual budget, which is around £20m, is too small
to enable it to have a meaningful
impact on 49 developing countries, and its programmes
are much too widespread. The
programmes could be made to have a more cohesive
purpose. The scarce resources are
distributed too thinly across projects. The projects
which have a critical mass, or a consistent
follow through to ensure a lasting impact, are few and
far between. The programmes lack a
country focus and there are almost no regional
perspectives. The Commonwealth states its
belief in and support for regional organisations. But
there are very few projects that the
Commonwealth through the CFTC is doing with ECOWAS,
SADC or ASEAN. I am told that
you have established contact with NEPAD headquarters
on a number of issues including the
African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). I would like to
see concrete evidence of such co-
operation in the near future. You can count on the
fact that a systematised approach will

receive overwhelming support from our members.
Many of today's leaders in the Commonwealth have had
the benefit of exposure to
Commonwealth education programmes through the
Commonwealth scholarship programme.
The programme should be strengthened, even expanded
because the more professionals that
pass through this programme, the more secured is the
future of the Commonwealth. The
Education Section of the Secretariat should be able to
support low priced editions of standard
textbooks across disciplines through appropriate
copyright arrangements. In this way,
students in poor countries can have wider access to
appropriate study materials.
Establishment of visual libraries can also help. The
support can easily extend beyond an
exchange of students to an exchange of teachers,
researchers and scientists between
Commonwealth countries. I know that virtually all
member countries will support such an
initiative because we need to deepen those bonds that
we share, promote understanding, and
establish new values to support peace and democracy.
The Commonwealth has a bright future. Its prospects
for making the world a better place are
almost unlimited. The 21 st century should see the
Commonwealth as a force for good in the
promotion of peace, democracy, good governance, gender
equality, human rights, rule of law
and sustainable development. The organisation should
continue to be a catalyst for global
peace, cooperation, security and development. But it
should also accept the challenge of
making the developed countries aware of the views of
the developing world and help in
spearheading policies and programmes to ameliorate the
plight of developing countries.
The world is now a global village. Globalisation
should make allowance for
meaningful economic co-operation. The present
situation of the globalised world in which
there are few winners and majority losers should be
reversed. I challenge the Commonwealth
to continue to work on conflict prevention and
resolution, strengthen democracy, and be the
keeper of the conscience of the world in bringing
about fair terms of trade and a type of
globalisation where we will all be winners. In doing
this, the Commonwealth would need to
strengthen its range of co-operation with other
international organisations and effectively
play the role of the bridge-builder between the North
and the South. Again, I believe that if
we all continue to act together, work together, reason
together and plan together, we can

make the Commonwealth not just the organisation to
emulate but also ensure that our
member countries enjoy boundless benefits that promote
peace, security, love, co-operation,
democracy and development.
I thank you for your attention.