The summit comes amid souring relations between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo that have reignited decades-long animosity.
Heads of government from Commonwealth countries will meet in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, on Friday and Saturday to address the challenges from climate change and poverty to the food security crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine.
Here are some key facts about the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and the Kigali summit, which were supposed to be held in 2020 but were postponed twice because of the COVID pandemic.
What is the Community?
It is a voluntary association of 54 countries that gradually evolved from the British Empire and has existed in its modern form since 1949.
Who are your members?
- The Commonwealth includes 13 countries in the Caribbean and the Americas, 19 countries in Africa, three in Europe, eight in Asia and 11 in the Pacific.
- It has a combined population of 2.5 billion.
- India accounts for 1.4 billion of its citizens, while 32 members have populations of 1.5 million or less, the smallest being Nauru, which has 10,000 inhabitants.
Are they all former British colonies?
- Most of them are, but that’s not a condition of membership. The last two countries to join, Rwanda and Mozambique, have no historical ties to the British Empire.
- Gabon and Togo, both former French colonies, must apply to attend the Kigali summit.
What does the Community do?
- It presents itself as a network of cooperation in common goals, such as protecting the environment, boosting trade, supporting democracy, promoting education and gender equality, and giving small states a voice on the world stage.
- While not a free trade zone, it calculates that its members find it 21% cheaper to trade with other members than with non-Commonwealth countries that are a similar distance away, based on an analysis of World Bank data. Factors include a common language and similar legal and business frameworks.
Who heads it?
- Queen Elizabeth II has been head of the Commonwealth, a largely symbolic role, since her reign began in 1952.
- The organization says the British monarch is not automatically its boss, but its members agreed at a meeting in London in 2018 that Elizabeth’s son Prince Charles would succeed her in the post. Charles is attending the Kigali summit, representing his mother.
Who manages it?
- It has a secretariat based in London and a secretary general, currently Patricia Scotland, born in Dominica.
- Commonwealth leaders will decide in Kigali whether to reappoint her for a second term or replace her with Kamina Johnson Smith, Jamaica’s foreign minister. Britain has criticized Scotland’s leadership and is supporting Johnson Smith, as are India and Belize.
Who is attending the Kigali summit?
- Most heads of government from Commonwealth countries will be there, including Muhammadu Buhari from Nigeria, Boris Johnson from Great Britain and Justin Trudeau from Canada.
- But Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, Narendra Modi of India, Shehbaz Sharif of Pakistan, Anthony Albanese of Australia and Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand are not expected, raising questions about the organization’s relevance to these countries.
- Some countries such as Zimbabwe have left the alliance or have signaled their willingness to leave. Others like Gambia, Pakistan and Maldives left earlier but returned to the corps.
What is likely to be discussed?
- Leaders are expected to discuss the soured relations since May between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as rebel groups – which Kinshasa accuses Kigali of supporting – launched their most sustained offensive in a decade. On Monday, Kenya announced the deployment of the East African Community regional force in the DRC to quell the violence.
- Climate action will also be on the agenda, as climate change remains a major concern for the bloc. Recent weather events and long-term weather trends, including heat waves, extreme temperatures, droughts, cyclones, floods and sea level rise, afflict most of its member states.
- Trade between member countries, a recurring topic of discussion, will also be included.
- The upcoming presidential elections in Kenya, scheduled for August 9, are also to be discussed.