Biography: Mole, Stuart Gordon. Lecturer, Chelmsford College, 1971–75. Parliamentary Press Officer, Liberal Party, 1975–77. Director, OUTSET Youth and Disability Charity, 1977–80. Head, Office of Leader of Liberal Party, 1980–83. Political lobbyist and Speechwriter, 1983–84. Commonwealth Secretariat: Special Assistant to Secretary-General, 1984–90; Director, Secretary-General’s Office, 1990–2000. Senior Research Associate, Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit, and Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, 2010- . Member (Liberal Democrat), Chelmsford BC, 1972–87 (Chairman, P & R Committee, 1983–87). Contested: (L) Chelmsford, 1974, 1979, 1983, 1987; (Lib Dem) N Essex and S Suffolk, European Parliament, 1994. Head, Leader’s General Election Campaign Tour, 1993. Director and Member, Editorial Board, The Round Table: Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, 1994- (Chairman, 2011- ). Director-General, Royal Commonwealth Society, 2000–09. President, Bath and District Royal Commonwealth Society, 2009- . Senior Associate, Sarlsdown Associates, 2009- . Honorary Fellow in Politics, University of Exeter, 2009- .
SO: Sue Onslow (Interviewer)
SM: Stuart Mole (Respondant)
Transcript Part One:
SO: This is Sue Onslow talking to Mr Stuart Mole at Exeter University on 1st February 2013. Stuart, thank you very much indeed for agreeing to talk to me. I wonder if you could begin by saying, please, how did you come to work at the Commonwealth Secretariat in 1984?
SM: I’d been working for David Steel as the head of his office as Leader of the Liberal Party. We’d come through the 1983 election and we’d had great hopes of the SDP Liberal Alliance overtaking Labour, and although it polled well, it didn’t do well enough. So I was looking for new employment in 1984 and David Steel was helpful to me in approaching various potential employers. One of them was the Commonwealth Secretariat because Sonny Ramphal was well known and well admired, and a good friend of David Steel. I drafted a letter which David signed which we sent to the Secretariat and that was the beginning. I think the first thing that Sonny did was to talk to me and then he encouraged me to see the Assistant Secretary-General, Moni Malhoutra, who was also head of the SG’s office as well. I had an interview with Moni and I remember going along and preparing what I thought was very well by finding all I could about the Commonwealth and doing an awful lot of research.
Moni – an Indian national – was someone who had a fantastic brain, a tremendous intellect, but perhaps was not the strongest on empathy and progressive management techniques. In the course of this interview he just demolished me. By half way through I felt there was no point going any further. He had ripped apart any opinion I’d cared to venture, showed me that any of the research I’d done was completely wrong and I was therefore reduced to silence. I thought, ‘Well, that will be the end of that’. I went away and I took all the documents I’d collected about the Commonwealth Secretariat and everything else and I threw them in the wastepaper basket and went on with life. About two months later, completely out of the blue, came a letter on blue note paper appointing me to the position of Assistant Director in the Commonwealth Secretariat as Special Assistant to Sonny Ramphal. This really conditioned how I thought of Marlborough House and the Secretariat from the first few months because for quite a period it seemed as though some terrible administrative error had been made and that I was there under wholly false pretences.
SO: [Laughter]. He wanted a different Stuart Mole?
SM: Yes, it must have been or my name had somehow got transposed on to the appointment document because the first two or three months I was completely at sea and the Secretariat seemed to be wholly alien to me. It was only when I talked later on to other people about their experiences coming into the Secretariat that I realised they were saying exactly the same thing.
SO: So this was Moni Malhoutra’s interviewing style?
SM: Moni Malhoutra’s interview left me feeling about two inches tall and with the profound feeling that he had nothing but the utmost contempt for me and my abilities. Therefore I couldn’t conceive that he would possibly want to appoint me to anything. But I think that the sense of bewilderment that a lot of people had, and possibly still have, in coming into the Secretariat is to do with other things as well. It’s not only to do with a rather arcane appointment procedure which now may be a lot better, a lot more efficient and a lot more ordered, but also to do with being inducted into some fairly strange processes.
SO: What was the arcane appointment procedure when you first arrived?
SM: As far as appointments to the Secretary-General’s office were concerned, as this story illustrates, there were no elaborate procedures. It was simply within the fiat of the Secretary-General as to whom he cared to appoint, and you would have to describe those appointment procedures as pretty rudimentary. I was involved in the recent Director of the Secretary-General’s office, being invited to sit as an external member on the appointment panel. I found the procedures were a world apart from my experiences then, and much better today. They included written work and exercises and so on which seek to test some of the key characteristics needed of a private office person. So we’re in a different world now.
SO: Had that new world started to emerge by the time you left the Secretary- General’s office?
SM: It had painfully begun to emerge, yes. Along the way the Secretariat had been subject to periodic external review (and indeed is just emerging from the latest bout) but it also has had internal consultants and internal review too. So gradually the Secretariat has acquired better procedures but it very much depends on the management style of the Secretary-General in terms of what they deem to be proper for the organisation that they’re running. Not many have had particular skills in that regard. They’re interested in leadership but being a good leader is not the same as being a good manager. I think that to the extent that successive Secretaries-General have been good managers, it is entirely coincidental. Or incidental, perhaps I should say.
SO: So just going back to your arrival back in 1984, this was not a well-oiled diplomatic machine then?
SM: No. It obviously had some fairly established procedures which had been drawn from the British system and so there was a slight sense of stepping back into a kind of different time. The British civil servants were used quite extensively in the first year or two of the Secretariat’s life. They had to help deliver, what in ‘65-’66, were three Prime Ministers meetings. There was one in 1965; there was the special meeting in Lagos in ’66 and then there was another one in the autumn, in September 1966.
SO: Yes, it was back in London.
SM: So that is something that the fledgling Secretariat couldn’t possibly cope with alone. So there was a big British influence at the beginning, even though it was an independent Secretariat. I think some of these British practices endured. We always used to have treasury tags and some of the procedures for making copies of things which seemed to me to be from the British system, but probably would have been from a fairly old fashioned British system.
SO: From the India Office?
SM: Yes, that sort of stuff. Sonny is a great man and was a great Secretary-General, and he basically talent-hunted people. He saw people who could make a contribution and he made sure they came to the Secretariat and worked for him. So that’s precisely what happened with Sir Peter Marshall, for example. Sonny went to Geneva to discuss the campaign for the Common Fund. Peter Marshall was enthused to work for Sonny but also Sonny spotted him as someone who could be useful to the organisation. Chris Laidlaw, the New Zealander –
SO: Your predecessor.
SM: – my predecessor, yes, he was in a diplomatic position in Paris. He came to work for Sonny at about half the salary; and it was simply because he was head hunted and he wanted to work for such an inspiring figure. It did mean that the management procedures were rather few and far between. I got the impression that the management arrangements were there to make sure that the Secretary-General’s wishes were carried out. So the finance department and the personnel department would very much take the guidance of the Secretary-General and what he wanted.
SO: Was the same true of International Affairs Division and Strategic Planning and Evaluation?
SM: Strategic Planning and Evaluation didn’t exist at that point. That came in, during Chief Anyaoku’s period as a result of the management review following the 1991 High Level Appraisal, I think. So I think that would have been about 1992 or 1993. International Affairs Division was, I think, very much lead by the Secretary-General (and through the private office) setting the agendas. There would have been some things that IAD would have been doing, for instance a regular monitoring presence at the United Nations, various kind of international assignments and contacts that they would have had which they would do as a matter of course. But their agenda, I would have said, was very much set by the Secretary-General.
SO: Was Moni Malhoutra himself recruited by Sonny Ramphal?
SM: Yes indeed. He was at that point running Mrs Gandhi’s private office and again I think Sonny spotted someone who could be enormously helpful and duly recruited Moni. Moni was very much Sonny’s enforcer and he had the authority and the status to go with it. There were tensions, difficulties resentments with the Deputy Secretaries-General from time to time, but Sonny’s leadership was the overriding factor. Moni had a brilliant mind and was, in lots of ways an excellent advisor for the SG but he treated many of his subordinates, including me, in a less than ideal way and some of us still have the scars!
None of this may have mattered except for the fact, in Moni’s case, that at the very end of Sonny’s term, in ’88 or ’89, the question of the Deputy Secretary-General (political) position came up, as a vacancy had arisen.
SO: In 1989 it would have been Chief Anyaoku, as he was being proposed for Secretary-General then.
SM: That’s right. This was to fill Anyaoku’s position and I am sure Sonny wanted Moni to be elected as the Deputy Secretary-General. Now at this point – and this is something that Emeka later changed – Commonwealth governments elected the various Deputy Secretaries-General. So the Secretary-General was elected by governments at CHOGM but the Deputy Secretaries-General were also elected by governments, though at a London inter-governmental meeting Emeka changed that because he said, “Look, I need to have the authority to appoint my own deputies and all my staff.” This was an interesting and valuable development but in the case of Sonny that hadn’t yet happened. So Moni was proposed, amongst others, to be the next Deputy Secretary-General, but was surprisingly beaten by the Australian nominee, Sir Anthony Siaguru, from Papua New Guinea. Anthony was an absolutely great guy, but was an unlikely candidate in other respects. According to some, this reflected some of the negative feedback which may have flowed into High Commissions from some of Moni’s subordinates. That was the story, anyway.
SO: So, by the time then that Kris Srinivasan became Deputy Secretary-General, that was within Chief Anyaoku’s control and remit?
SM: That’s right, yes. The same was true of Deputy Secretary-General, Dame Veronica Sutherland. Emeka was keen to appoint a woman to the post. I do remember Veronica coming to see Emeka and then returning for a further interview. So once again the interview procedures and appointment procedures were unusual, I think, but within the ambit of the Secretary-General’s prerogative.
SO: Stuart, while you were working then at the Commonwealth Secretariat how far was this a well-structured, diplomatic machine? Or was it an organisation in which there appeared to be concentric circles of power, with varying connections and controlled patterns of information sharing – because every organisation has its different forms and norms.
SM: First of all, there was an underlay which had been put in place which reflected British systems. Then on top of that was the fact of it being a multinational and multicultural organisation. So there is no formal quota system for the appointment of staff to the Commonwealth Secretariat but the Secretary- General, in his appointments, is supposed to pay due regard to geographical balance. That is probably the polite term for making sure that at least all the five regions of the Commonwealth, if not every single country, were adequately represented. Of course, that requirement has also got to be balanced against the quality of the appointee.
Being a multinational Secretariat meant that a backdrop of there being a lot of issues about race and political equality in Commonwealth debates at the time, had their reflection within the Secretariat.
So it was particularly important that a member of staff coming into a Secretariat appointment from Africa or from Asia, say, should feel a position of equality not only in terms and conditions of services and pay, but also as regards their status compared with someone from the old Commonwealth, whether the UK, Canada or New Zealand, or wherever. This may explain why the Secretariat which has never been a large organisation by international standards (having reached 400 personnel at its peak) was none-the-less surprisingly bureaucratic and cumbersome, and probably is to this day. An excessive caution about treating all of the same rank equally did generate, I felt, cumbersome but politically correct processes. This meant that, in its normal working operations, it moves more slowly than it need to.
On top of that were the methods of appointment. First was Arnold Smith, of course, and then there was Sonny. In those early days they were very much headhunting on a personal basis. Arnold was ringing up a Prime Minister and saying “Look, I need a good Head of International Affairs. Who can you give me?” Sonny was no different in that respect, but I think also every Secretary- General – and it was certainly true of Sonny – would want to see a good reflection of their region within the Secretariat. So there was a sense that from the Caribbean and from Guyana in particular – there would be some trusted people close to Sonny. In all fairness to the SG, if he’d left the Secretariat just to chug along as a machine, it would be a fairly slow moving and dysfunctional machine. This may be a bit of a clue to later times when the Secretaries-General may have tried to ignore the Secretariat – or not exactly ignore it, but not to lead it. Sonny’s nature was to lead the organisation and to galvanise it into the purposes which he very clearly saw.
So in doing this, he would have a team around him whom he would most rely upon for advice and for implementing action. There might be others whose work was seen to be less immediate; it would be several circles further out. So I think there was a lot of personal chemistry involved that was important to Sonny.
SO: What about Chief Emeka? What was your position once the SG position changed? The Chief was selected in 1989, elected by the Heads of Government at Kuala Lumpur, and came into the office then in 1990. Did that affect your position in any way?
SM: Emeka had asked me to stay on and become the head of his office. So from that point of view it was a fairly seamless transition – to say farewell to Sonny and to be involved in Sonny’s departure; and then to welcome Emeka in and to have everything ready when he came. Now I also had experience of doing that when Emeka departed in 1999 and, again, did a lot of work with his fair-welling and with Don McKinnon’s arrival. Then I stayed on a few months to see in Don McKinnon. I maybe could have stayed on for a year or so longer, but felt it was time to go. The difference between McKinnon’s entry as Secretary-General and Chief Emeka’s was that the Chief consciously took himself away from the Secretariat for quite an extended period of ‘retreat’.
SO: Did you stay in touch with him?
SM: He didn’t stay in touch with me, certainly. He may have stayed in touch with other people but I think he generally shut himself away. That was very interesting and understandable because he came into the Secretariat in December 1965. He’d been ‘man and boy’ in the Secretariat, beginning in the International Affairs Division as an Assistant Director, working his way up the organisation and had been there almost continuously all that time. So there wasn’t much you could have told him about the organisation; he needed no induction in that respect. He knew the personalities, he knew governments. Again I don’t think there was too much politically that he needed to be in touch with the Secretariat about. He took himself away and developed this ‘mantra’ – his mission statement, if you like. I wouldn’t describe Emeka as a ‘visionary’ in that sense but he manufactured a very clear mission for himself and for the Commonwealth. He felt quite keenly the criticisms from outside of some of those Commonwealth governments who had been pursuing the anti-apartheid cause but whose regimes were very far from being democratic.
There were, at the time of Emeka’s first Heads of Government meeting, around 9 or 10 (depending on how you define them), military or one-party states in the membership. In the Commonwealth in 1991, there were 49 countries in the Commonwealth at that point. But it did mean that 20% of Commonwealth countries at that stage were by no stretch of the imagination democratic. Obviously as the anti-apartheid struggle had got nastier, and in particular coming from the British tabloids, there had been a lot of stuff directed at African leaders, some of it thinly disguised racism. There had been plenty of justification of some of the criticism, one ought to add. It had certainly hit home with Emeka. Emeka was a great anglophile anyway, and was more conscious of this criticism than others. Anyway, it strengthened his belief that the Secretariat needed to put its own house in order.
SO: How much was that Emeka’s own decision or was it building upon the High-Level Appraisal Group coming out of Kuala Lumpur which had initiated a phase of examination of the Commonwealth and its direction?
SM: He had decided early on that this was a real problem that needed to be addressed. So obviously there was a sense in which the high level appraisal contributed to his leadership on that issue. I would give Emeka a huge amount of credit for having gone away, on his ‘retreat’, and decided that the Commonwealth had to develop its democratic and human rights agenda. Now I’m not saying that Emeka, either then, or as it’s turned out later, is a populist democrat or human rights advocate, because he’s a rather patrician figure. I don’t think his instincts are always naturally in that area but he decided as a matter of principle that this is what should be done. And that’s where the Commonwealth went. As I say, he had this mantra in his head about what the Commonwealth needed to do and he kept repeating it over the next 10 years; and he did decide in 1988-89 that the Commonwealth needed the High-Level Appraisal Group. Again, here’s a good contrast between Don McKinnon because one thing Emeka did do was that he got immediately stuck in to all the meetings of the Working Group of Experienced Officials. This was a group of ‘sherpas’ doing all the legwork for the High Level Appraisal Group, under the chairmanship of a prominent Malaysian official. Emeka was there and took a leading part in all these discussions so that there would be no surprises later on. The working group of experienced officials included Lord Armstrong, the Cabinet Secretary. He’s worthwhile talking to as well.
SO: He’s interviewing me before he’ll agree.
SM: Is he? Oh, okay! [Laughter]. The Working Group produced the report that went before Commonwealth leaders in Harare in 1991. In Harare, the High-Level Appraisal Group under Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr Mohamad Mahathir actually only met for part of the day. So actually the High-Level Appraisal Group composed of Heads of Government didn’t do much work apart from a slightly skewed examination of future directions. They considered the membership issue; they talked about election observer missions, and so on. But it was really at the Retreat in Elephant Hills where this debate was brought into some kind of coherence as the “Commonwealth Harare Declaration”. Again, I know that Lord Armstrong, for the British Government, had another draft of the Harare Declaration ready.
There is an interesting contrast with Don McKinnon’s arrival as Secretary-General. He was in touch with the office in the build up to his arrival. He saw Emeka several times – they had a series of meetings in London. I remember one in New York as well.
Don seemed to be pretty clear in his own mind about what he intended to do. I am not sure what Emeka said made much difference, but then that’s probably always the way with successors and their predecessors.
Don McKinnon had a thoroughly hands-off approach to his own high level review because he too had a review process coming off the same Durban summit (in 1999) that elected him SG. Instead of getting stuck in immediately, making sure as Emeka did, that it was precisely as he wanted, governments were allowed to move in, which I thought was a mistake. So, from the very beginning, I felt he lost some ground on that. He was able, of course, to join these discussions simply at Heads of Government level, but by then he was probably a bit behind the game. So there was a big difference between the two in style.
In terms of Emeka, he’s very conscious of his status; he is a Chief and there are certain ways that chiefs should behave. To his critics, this could sometimes be vaguely ridiculously, and perhaps a bit pompous.
SO: Was it just being conscious of his dignity?
SM: He would say – and I give him credit for this argument – that he was protecting not his personal dignity, but of the dignity of his office. I remember occasions when he managed to rescue certain events from total farce by investing them with his own personal dignity. On one occasion we had a dawn wreath laying ceremony in New Zealand on ANZAC Day, and something terrible had happened just before he was due to lay his wreath: somebody had fallen over and the wreaths had been knocked over. It was just a moment of farce when the whole thing could have dissolved into laughter and ridicule. Chief pulled it all back into a proper solemn occasion by walking with this huge dignity, holding his own wreath, by taking all the time in the world with his bow and with his personal respects, before turning and marching in a very measured way back to his place. He just brought the whole ceremony back into some sort of order and proper respect.
There were other occasions when he would insist on doing something that I thought was a bit petty and pompous, but he would say “I’m not doing this for me; I’m doing it for the dignity of the office.” He was very conscious that if he got fobbed off with a permanent secretary as opposed to meeting a senior minister or head of government, that was the beginning of a dangerously slippery slope.
That’s what officials wanted: to be in control of their Secretary-General, to be able to take over. It was a way of taking upon themselves, of diverting that channel of power and of reinterpreting the message for their heads of government. Emeka knew (as did other SGs) that the personal relationship with heads of government was an absolutely essential part of the chemistry.
SO: It’s validation also of the role of the Secretary-General.
SM: Yes it is, it’s the be-all and end-all. Consultation is “the lifeblood of the Commonwealth”, as the Memorandum of Understanding says, and the Secretary-General has to be the embodiment of that. He has to be the nerve centre of that consultation and consultation in the broadest sense. He has to be able to pick up on silences as well as sounds and to be aware, as far as he can, of all opinions. There are ultimately limitations on that approach and one of them is electing people to offices. The Commonwealth has a rather strange way of dealing with elections. Other than that, it would be for the Secretary-General to appreciate that there was a difficulty in the Pacific, even though Pacific leaders, probably for reasons of politeness, wouldn’t be articulating the fact that they had a problem but it would be apparent in other ways. Emeka was very good at picking up on those signals.
SO: How about the workings of the Secretariat during his tenure as Secretary-General?
SM: One of the things that Emeka had very clear in his mind – and this was part of what was Emeka’s mission – was that there would need to be not only this high-level reappraisal of the future directions of the Commonwealth, now the battles of apartheid were increasingly in the past, but also the Secretariat would need to be re-vamped. So he always knew that he wanted to bring in management consultants and that he wanted there to be a whole chain of internal changes within the Secretariat. I think that was a necessary process which moved us further down the road, in what were changed circumstances. Sonny had experienced the Secretariat at its very peak and he had been used to adding people and adding divisions, more or less at will.
SO: How did he have the budget for that?
SM: Well, the budget came with it. So funds were established on the way, and he was able to find funding for new activities. Also countries of course were joining, and there was not at that stage a zero growth budget. Emeka, facing tightening budgets, realised that he had to reduce staff, streamline divisions; and staff numbers started coming down from their peak. There were two Assistant Secretaries-General – one was the Head of the Secretary-General’s office. The other Assistant Secretary-General was also the Managing Director of the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation and that tended to be a Canadian because the Canadians were amongst the biggest contributors to the Fund. Emeka, with the management review, reverted to having three Deputy Secretaries-General.
So three Deputy Secretaries-Generals, no Assistant SGs, a reduction in the number of divisions, rationalising programmes. So Emeka did embark on rigorous change there. He looked at the terms and conditions of all the staff. One of the great issues in the Secretariat has been the whole question of contract tenure and rotation of staff. There has been a differential between locally recruited staff and overseas recruited staff and this has also had an impact on rotation policy. The argument has been that better terms should be given to the overseas staff because they will be serving a term or two and then they’ll be going home and so on. There was a lot of debate, which goes on still, about how many terms should someone expect with their appointment? Is it one contract of three years, two contracts of six or three contracts of nine? This argument has gone on and on. In Emeka’s time the rule was “one term if you’re no good; two terms of you’re any good; and three terms if you’re really good”.
SO: Stuart, did you count as locally engaged?
SM: I was included at in the diplomatic level, but I was locally recruited so I did not have any of the diplomatic privileges which other overseas recruited diplomatic staff had. Interestingly enough, I discovered by looking through the 1965 record of the Prime Minister’s meeting, that the reason why the Secretariat was given some privileges but not immunity from parking regulations was because Harold Wilson (who was in the chair) said “Well, actually we’ve had a terrible problem with it.”
SO: ‘We’ still do!
SM: We still do. “Do you mind if we leave that one out?” said Harold. So that’s why the Secretariat staff can’t park on double yellow lines! But overseas diplomatic staff do get duty-free alcohol, immunity from prosecution and taxation, and other privileges. So there was a differential there. The three contract rule applied for a particular appointment, so if you were an Assistant Director, the rule applied to that grade. If you were then promoted, the clock was re-set. So it meant that by the time I became a Director (after a year with Emeka as head of his office) in 1991 my clock for nine years as a Director would have started ticking at that point. Even so, even after that the Secretary-General has discretion to give people a year or two extension, if need be. This issue has raged on and on ever since and it’s been the cause of serious litigation. One of the things that happened while I was there was that because the Secretariat didn’t want to be subject to English employment law, it had to agree to alternative arbitration machinery to justify its being; so as an international organisation, it had to have an arbitral tribunal for the external and independent redress of staff grievances. There was scarcely a case referred to the Arbitral Tribunal under Anyaoku – it had not long been established – but McKinnon had to deal with a rising number of cases. One or two have proved expensive for the Secretariat in terms of compensation. However, that was the kind of price that had to be paid for being an independent international organisation.
SO: So this fundamental restructuring of the Commonwealth Secretariat was a painful process of managing change. Did that diminish the efficacy of the Secretariat in the 90s? After all, the Commonwealth itself was going through a process of change. So there would be new challenges placed upon the administrative staff.
SM: I happen to be of the view that leadership is the crucial ingredient here. It is how the Secretariat is led and what the kind of culture that leadership instils and what it means in terms of setting standards for others. I think that Sonny was probably, above all the Secretaries-General, the one who managed to inspire much of the organisation, whatever they were doing; even those remote from him, in some of those outer circles. He inspired them to give what they could in their respective fields, even if he may not have taken a very close interest in what they were doing. He also had a personal touch. For instance, every Christmas there was a staff Christmas party and Sonny would himself cook the most wonderful Caribbean food for staff. That kind of touch has an impact. I could never have imagined Emeka doing that. He was naturally more remote – utterly polite and utterly charming, but not with that kind of common touch. Don McKinnon was probably the most relaxed and matey with staff, but this could sometimes be a disadvantage, particularly in his handling of personnel decisions.
What I would say in defence of the Secretaries-General is it was a huge challenge for Arnold Smith in setting up this body; none of his successors had that task to actually create something out of nothing. To create something where the expectations of some of the most powerful governments were so minimal and where actually it was something that Arnold Smith had to create out of flesh and bone, as much as anything else. So others didn’t have that challenge, but others had to cope with changes in the international climate. They couldn’t make do with the pioneer spirit, the kind of make-and-do approach; they had to be conscious of international norms, increasingly conscious. I think even now we’re only truly connecting with some of the international standards in terms of behaviour and management, accounting procedures, and all the rest of it.
I would suspect that the pioneering spirit of the early days extended as far as the finances; that’s as far as I would say. Certainly Patsy Robertson was told when she was appointed by Arnold Smith, “I’ll find something out of petty cash to pay you.” Which I think she found rather insulting! So, times have changed a lot and the SG has a lot more to put up with in terms of managing this still cumbersome, multicultural organisation. But my view hasn’t changed that the root of a successful Secretariat is leadership and a Secretary-General ought to be able to capture that organisation and lead it successfully; no amount of international norms and kite marks, or whatever, will be enough. The organisation may be in conformity with every possible international standard but unless you’ve got somebody driving the organisation, it’s not going to go anywhere.
SO: Stuart, I wonder if you could elaborate please on how each of the Secretaries-General handled the British Government?
SM: My experience is of Sonny Ramphal, of Emeka Anyaoku and a bit of Don McKinnon and I know that Don’s memoirs are just out.
Beginning with Sonny: his relations with Mrs Thatcher were on the whole difficult, I would say. Although there was a sort of undercurrent – other people have mentioned this aspect of Mrs Thatcher’s femininity – of mild chemistry there. She probably thought he was a bit of a rascal but I think nonetheless she found him an engaging rascal at that. After all, at the very end, she invited him to dinner at Downing Street and described him as ‘a superb Secretary-General’. So, in a sense, although they were coming from completely different planets – or completely different parts of the planet, there was some mutual respect. Certainly, towards the end of Sonny’s time, the relations with the British Government got very bad indeed and part of Sir Peter Marshall’s job as Deputy Secretary-General was to keep in touch with the Permanent Under-Secretary in the FCO and to just try and keep things as much on the road as he possible could.
SO: So that was an increasingly tough job?
SM: That was an increasingly tough job and one that Peter Marshall did for much of his tenure. Peter came in, in 1983 and served until 1989; so for all that time I think for Peter life was pretty difficult.
SO: Mrs Thatcher was not the entirety of the British Government, but she dominated policy to an increasing degree.
SM: She dominated policy and she infected the civil service as well. I thought there was a big difference between how the officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and indeed in other parts of the system behaved in relation to the Commonwealth during that time, compared with, say, the present. I remember as a Brit sitting and listening to UK ministers and to senior officials talking and thinking “Why can’t you be positive? It would be so easy to say things that would win you friends and which would create understanding but instead you’re speaking in this barren and arrogant language and it’s getting you absolutely nowhere.” Some of the officials, the only thing they could think of, and talk about, was money. They had no broader perspective, no broader feel for the Commonwealth or where they could be helpful. I could think of one or two names of that period who were exemplars of that kind of approach and it was so damaging, but I think it was, at root, Her Master’s Voice that was coming through.
SO: How about the political appointments? You talk about the civil servants within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Treasury?
SM: There were actually some very interesting figures there, weren’t there? Lord Carrington I think had a fairly healthy dislike of Sonny Ramphal from their exchanges over Zimbabwe, but Carrington had a fairly interesting and enlightened FCO team didn’t he?
SO: Yes, very much so.
SM: He had Ian Gilmour, Douglas Hurd.
SO: As well as Richard Luce.
SM: Richard Luce. There were some really excellent people there. For instance, on the Middle East I think there was movement there, wasn’t there? Maybe this is all another story.
SO: How about Geoffrey Howe?
SM: Geoffrey Howe was a case in point of someone who actually at times rescued Mrs Thatcher from her worst excesses. He certainly did that at the time of the Special Summit on the Eminent Persons Group Report in August 1986. The odd thing about Mrs Thatcher was that when stripped of her briefings and her official persona and whatever, she reverted back into pure Grantham: all these original homespun attitudes would come bubbling out and at times it was quite horrifying. It wasn’t the official position of the British Government but it was being articulated by the Prime Minister and I think that was quite shocking for people. I do remember something of that kind happening on the morning of the discussion of the seven heads in 1986. It was only Geoffrey Howe coming in, in the afternoon, who managed to pull things back from what might have been a disastrous result. Then of course there was the occasion when John Major was famously rebuffed by Mrs Thatcher on South Africa when he had painstakingly, with other Commonwealth Foreign Ministers, negotiated an agreement in Kuala Lumpur in 1989.
SO: When John Major became Prime Minister, though, was there an easing of tensions between Marlborough House and Downing Street? Or is there an inevitable tension between the two?
SM: It was an easier relationship, no question of that. Sonny, I think, is very fond of the UK but I wouldn’t describe him as an Anglophile in the way that Emeka is. Emeka, I think, has taken it one step on, almost to the point, on occasions, of being rather more trusting of the British than I think they deserved. So his relations with John Major were very good. On a particular issue they fell out, certainly I remember that. Indeed one very embarrassing occasion occurred at the 1993 Limassol CHOGM meeting in Cyprus. This was again a fall-out of from the High Level Appraisal. Heads looked at the term of the Secretary-General and at Emeka’s second term. He was elected in 1989 and took office in 1990. So he had an expectation of at least two five year terms (though I think he wouldn’t have wanted more than that). The proposal was that they should move the SG to two four year terms as a maximum. In the course of the debate, there was a disagreement about timing and dates and it came out badly. First of all, it looked as though the British had no confidence in Emeka having a second term.
Secondly, it looked as though they were trying to shave off his time by effectively cutting away at his term. Emeka absolutely stood his ground. The great thing about Emeka, as indeed with Sonny, was that when he got to a certain line he would stand behind it, and that was that. He knew precisely when to do that and to hell with the consequences. Emeka effectively won that particular contest, though there were some formal words that got them round the corner.
I remember John Major because Commonwealth membership was discussed in Harare, in the context of the Harare Declaration. So it was rather interesting; there was established the principle that for a country to join they had to sign up to this “charter” of democracy and human rights, and they also had to show that they were living by these principles, and not just paying lip-service.
So that was an interesting development in terms of membership. It was a precursor of what later happened in terms of “Well, now you’re a member, what standard do we expect you to live up to?” I think the other disagreement with John Major, was at the ’95 summit where he was hoping that Heads could get a rather more restrictive framework on membership in place, to avoid a “Mozambique factor” coming through and that you wouldn’t get the kind of Mozambique factor coming through.
SO: What do you mean ‘the Mozambique factor’?
SM: Well, by then Cameroon had flagged up that it wanted to join the Commonwealth and I think Mozambique by then had made clear it also wanted to join. John Major wasn’t in favour of this and hoped that the working group on membership criteria could be established. This happened and the group was led by the then New Zealand High Commissioner in London, John Collinge. John Major’s ploy was for Heads to agree to the working group looking at membership criteria which would postpone a decision on Mozambique and then recommend a restrictive approach, leading to quite tight entry requirements which would bat away Cameroon and Mozambique. But of course Nelson Mandela drove a coach and horses through this by proposing Mozambique’s membership at the Retreat of the 1995 Auckland CHOGM. Of course this was received with acclamation and completely blew away John Major’s attempts to hold the line. When we got to Edinburgh, two years later, there were then three applications on the table from Palestine, Rwanda and Yemen. By then Tony Blair, with some difficulty, was able to kick all of these into touch. Even so, a substantial proportion of Heads still wanted Palestine, a non-state though it was, to be a member.
SO: Had that been emerging through the ‘90s from the Oslo Accords?
SM: It had. One of the interesting things about the Commonwealth is the way that some major international issues, such as the Middle East, seeped into Commonwealth discussions even though there was no, at present, Middle East countries within the Commonwealth. Emeka, being Emeka, did have some discussions about trying to engineer a situation where Palestine would be accepted into membership, alongside Israel and Jordan.
SO: That would have been interesting.
SM: [Laughter]. Yes, as a kind of tripartite solution. He certainly had some discussions with the Israeli Ambassador in London in that regard.
As regards the Palestinian application, Yasser Arafat delivered this personally to the SG at Marlborough House. I remember the day Yasser Arafat came and he was wearing his traditional outfit and Chief was dressed up in his Nigerian robes. At the end of the discussion upstairs in the Secretary- General’s office, Chief offered to show him Marlborough House and the state rooms and said “Stuart will you guide?” So I took them round the fine rooms and they stopped under this portrait of the Queen and they both looked and I thought “If only I had a camera.” Because the sight of Yasser Arafat and Emeka, standing either side of the portrait in their robes, admiring this picture of the Queen, would have been a fantastic picture, I thought. Anyway, though nothing happened in 1997, Rwanda persisted and eventually came into membership 10 years later.
SO: Was Arafat serious about this, do you think?
SM: I think he was a lot more serious, for instance, than Fidel Castro was when he enquired on Cuba’s behalf.
SM: I think at that point Arafat was looking for any degree of support and validation he could find. Also I think they probably had overblown expectations of what the Commonwealth could provide in material terms.
SO: How about with Blair?
SM: It was very interesting to see the British organising the 1997 CHOGM because all along there was a kind of presumption of British superiority. You know, the expectation in the Commonwealth that whatever the British did would be the ultimate in organisation and everything. This pervaded the British sense of their own self-importance in that respect and in some respects Edinburgh was a cock-up on several levels. The conference centre was too small; the Edinburgh International Conference Centre was actually not quite big enough for a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. For The Retreat, the idea of just a train ride up to St Andrews and back wasn’t a good idea, I think. The Opening Ceremony was a complete disaster. It was affected by this kind of “Cool Britannia” approach that characterised the early Tony Blair administration. What the Commonwealth does want, in any country they go to, is authentic home-grown culture, or not necessarily so much authentic. You know, they want the business: when they come to Britain, they want Beefeaters and Life Guards and, if they’re going to Scotland, bagpipes and kilts; and the National Anthem and the Queen and everything else. What they got was Tony Blair banning bagpipes and kilts: no obvious Scottishness, no Life Guards, and we had a version of the National Anthem which sounded as if it was being played on the central heating system.
SO: ‘God Save the Queen’ in hip-hop style?
SM: Yes, and it was such a wrong call. Tony Blair’s approach to the Commonwealth also was quite misguided. He saw them as a genial backdrop to his photo opportunity. So one of the struggles we had was at the Retreat. Retreat discussions, as each Heads of Government meetings went on, were getting more formalised. Less and less of the formal business was done in the Executive Session, more and more of it was being pushed into the Retreat. In the very early days at Sonny’s first Retreat (in Gleneagles in 1977) he got a few heads together. The rest generally played golf and exercised and walked. As David Lange, the New Zealand Prime Minister said of the outsiders, “We had our noses pressed to the window.” The rest of them were excluded, apart from those that had to do the deals. By this time, it had become formalised to the extent that you had a room where all the Heads could come and they would all sit round in a position of equality, and it got more difficult, the bigger the Commonwealth got.
To keep it informal, you’d try and avoid having tables and blotters and all the paraphernalia; and, amongst those informal chairs, would be the host Prime Minister or President and the Secretary-General. Increasingly you’d have one or two staff people at the back and then three or four people at the back and then there were five or six people at the back. When we arrived in St Andrews I went and saw the meeting room with Alistair Campbell and all the normal team there, with Anji Hunter, I think. They had got a kind of little raised podium for Tony Blair to sit on, with the Secretary-General next to him and a nice flower arrangement. Then the Heads were all theatre style, just sort of sitting row upon row, looking adoringly, and we said “You can’t do it this way.” They said “No, no this is all agreed. Tony’s agreed it, we can’t change it now.” We said “Well, you’ll have to.” They said “No, they’re on their way. It’s too late.” So we said “Well, I’m sorry, this doesn’t work.”
So we had stalemate. As soon as Emeka arrived, I took him to see the room and he immediately went to Tony and it was all changed back to the normal arrangement. But that was the sort of thinking there was. Blair didn’t have the patience for the Commonwealth. He wanted to cut to the chase and, with the Commonwealth obviously, you’ve got to go at the pace of the slowest vessel. It takes time before everything is corralled into consensus; you’ve got to give it time.
SO: Did Robin Cook ‘get’ the Commonwealth?
SM: Not really. I remember Robin Cook as being a rather indifferent attender because what had happened by then, by 1995, was that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) had been founded and so Cook had a position on CMAG representing the UK. CMAG was actually in those days doing some quite important stuff, particularly about Nigeria. But invariably the British would send deputies to Cook. There was Derek Fatchett who was Junior Foreign Office Minister. He actually died suddenly and it was rather tragic because he was a very fit guy. I remember him getting a very high score in the Commonwealth versus the Foreign Office cricket match. Then, later, there was the Junior Foreign Office Minister and Manchester MP Tony Lloyd. I’m afraid that we didn’t see much of Robin Cook.
SO: In terms of British preoccupations and demands on the Foreign Secretary at the time, this was the build up to the Kosovo Campaign in ’98-’99. I’m just thinking of explanations why he might not have been a good Commonwealth man.
SM: I think that’s absolutely true, but if you compare the time that people gave, what I will say, in defence of Tony Blair, was that he almost without exception attended the Commonwealth Day Observance in Westminster Abbey. Others, who were ostensibly much more committed to the Commonwealth, had not done so. Tony Blair was extremely good about that, I don’t know why but he was.
SO: A good photo opportunity?
SM: Possibly, but he invariably didn’t get it, particularly.
SO: Just to conclude, please could you comment, in your experience, on each Secretary-General’s relationship with the Palace.
SM: It is a very interesting relationship because it is a distinct one from government. I think the Queen sees her relationship as Head of the Commonwealth as being quite separate to her relationship with the British Prime Minister or the Prime Ministers of her other realms. So Sonny and Emeka had regular audiences with the Queen, and I know this was also the case with the other three holders of the office. They also saw her on many other occasions too. She would come to the big events and there was quite a lot of contact. Emeka would keep in close touch with the Private Secretary and had quite a number of meetings or lunches or whatever. There were some moments, like over Fiji in 1987, when the Palace actually performed in relation to the Governor General, a remarkably separate function to the British government machinery. I suppose that was also true of Sir Humphrey Gibbs in Rhodesia after UDI; you know that they were operating on a rather different track. Again, those links with the Palace and constitutionality were quite unique.
SO: As you say, Ratu Penaia’s relationship as Governor was with the Queen.
SM: In Fiji, absolutely, until it became utterly untenable. That was a recognition that there was something distinctive there and something that had its own particular hold – it may not have been a major element in the crisis but it had its own particular hold. Interestingly, when Rabuka came back to power legitimately as Prime Minister, the first thing he did was to present the Queen with this sign of atonement.
SO: Did he give her a ‘sevu sevu’, the whale’s tooth?
SM: The whale’s tooth, indeed. There were Palace drafts that would go through a Commonwealth system but not through the British one, necessarily. Of course the Palace would have a British government official; an FCO person probably, as an Assistant Private Secretary so there was that connection but I can remember drafts of Queen’s speeches and of course the Queen’s Commonwealth Day Message would be passed through Commonwealth channels for the input of the Secretary-General. So I think the Queen had a very clear view – this was a proper job. She wasn’t simply a symbol and the relationship was important. The Palace, on the whole, was as helpful as it could be.
It’s also interesting to reflect how the succession to the Headship would be dealt with in terms of the Commonwealth, and that’s been a tricky issue. Obviously one clear possibility is that Prince Charles will be appointed the next Head, so there have been continuing attempts, over the years, to develop the Prince of Wales’ interest in the Commonwealth. When the Commonwealth of Learning was established in Vancouver, the thought was that Prince Charles might become the Chairman of the Board of Governors, though that in the end came to nothing. It was a pity because Prince Edward had been President of the Commonwealth Games Federation and this is a valuable role. One thing Emeka did was to open up a role for the Queen at the opening ceremony of CHOGM. Up to that point, the Queen had never come to the CHOGM though everyone thought she did. She would be staying elsewhere and would have her audiences there, so Heads would be discreetly leaving the meeting to go and have 20 minutes, or whatever, with the Queen and come back again.
So she had very good contact with Heads of Government but the only contact she had with the meeting itself was a day or so before when the Secretary-General would take her around the CHOGM venue and show her the meeting rooms and introduce the staff, and so on. Then she would go back and she’d give a party or two but not actually attend any part of the meeting. Emeka broke new ground. Emeka is a huge traditionalist and a great believer in the monarchy and he not only brought her into the Opening Ceremony (for the 1997 CHOGM in Edinburgh) but made sure she gave a speech as well. Invariably, she now makes the best speech of all, and has been doing it ever since. What was interesting in Uganda in 2007 was that Prince Charles came to the CHOGM and actually joined one of the roundtable discussions that the Civil Society organisations were having with Foreign Ministers. That was a very interesting and rather doubtful interposition of the son of the Head of the Commonwealth in official Commonwealth consultations. There was no kind of constitutional justification for that, in my view, but in the way the Commonwealth does, it’s slowly edging its way through to somewhere else.
SO: Yes, as Derek Ingram said, it’s the Commonwealth’s ability to constantly reinvent itself.
SM: That’s true [laughter].
SO: Stuart, thank you very, very much indeed.
[END OF AUDIOFILE PART ONE]
Transcript Part Two:
SO: This is Sue Onslow talking to Mr Stuart Mole in Axminster on Friday, 14th February 2014. Stuart, thank you very much indeed for agreeing to talk again to us for the project. I wonder if you could begin, please, with your observations on the Commonwealth Games of 1986. 32 countries boycotted these games, including almost all African, Caribbean and Asian nations in protest against the British government’s attitude towards apartheid South Africa. The Games opened in July 1986 but of course, the diplomacy and politicking beforehand seems to have been particularly intense.
SM: Yes. It was very much bound up with all that was happening with the initiative of the Eminent Persons Group mission. Looking at it from the view of Sonny Ramphal and the Commonwealth Secretariat, I think the major preoccupation there was with what was happening politically. But at the same time, I do recall Sonny Ramphal doing his utmost to try and dissuade those Commonwealth African nations who wanted to boycott the games from doing so. But in that, he was unsuccessful. Often when people talk about Sonny and his near magical powers in being able to bend the Commonwealth to his will, as it were, they forget instances like this when in fact, he was entirely unsuccessful in trying to dissuade African and Asian countries from boycotting the Games – even though he would have argued that these were Commonwealth games; they were not Mrs Thatcher’s Games. They were also Scotland’s games, and Scotland had a fantastic reputation in terms of the anti-apartheid cause. The Commonwealth was part of a process which had seen this major initiative in South Africa through the Eminent Persons Group, and so on. He would have said all those things but still the boycott went ahead. But of course, the atmosphere was terribly bad. For a start, the Commonwealth Games Federation at that point wasn’t very receptive to having any kind of political input. It was only after those Games, as far as I recall, that they recognised that they needed political help; that they needed to deal with the political dimension of something as major as this crisis. So, the ’86 Games ended up being a big wakeup call for all sorts of reasons and the very survival of the Commonwealth Games in the future hung in the balance. From that period, it became much more professional in all sorts of ways.
But I think that Sonny’s ability to work on behalf of the Games and in saving the Games was limited, even though he did all that he could. This was all in the period when the Eminent Persons Group had come back and had issued its report, which had become a Penguin bestseller. It had been published in different language editions around the world and was given prominence at the Sanctions Conference in Paris during the summer, as it was in the debate in the US Senate where the United States Congress adopted measures against the wishes of Ronald Reagan. As far as I recall, Reagan vetoed the legislation because, of course, the axis with Mrs Thatcher there was very strong. And we were coming up to the London Commonwealth mini-summit just a week or so later from the end of the Games – the mini-summit where Mrs Thatcher was going to go head-to-head with her fellow heads and looked like being very hostile to the idea of any kind of further sanctions resulting from the Eminent Persons Group Report.
So it was a horrendous time but of course, the Games were made all the worse by the kind of financial mismanagement that occurred: the fact that there wasn’t adequate funding from the word ‘go’; and that when they were looking for a financial ‘white knight’, they turned to Robert Maxwell. That was a disaster too. So from all sorts of angles, the ’86 Games were terrible.
SO: Stuart, do you remember when the possibility of a boycott first raised its head? The Eminent Persons Group had come out of the Nassau meeting of 1985 and had gone down to South Africa in February of ’86; so even at that point, was there gathering momentum for boycotting the Commonwealth Games or was there a precipitating event?
SM: I really can’t remember that, Sue. I was going backwards and forwards between London and South Africa between February and May. And therefore, I may well have been unaware of what was developing. My recollection was that the boycott movement didn’t gather strength until later in the year. I mean, what I suspect may well have been the case is that it was only after the publication of the EPG report that it gathered momentum. I think the EPG left South Africa on 19th May and the report was published in June. And I think that Mrs Thatcher reacted very strongly at that stage. There were all the other pressures for sanctions. She, of course, sent, well, Geoffrey Howe went to South Africa on behalf of the European Union. So she would have been still hoping to salvage something from negotiations rather than further sanctions. And my feeling was that the boycott came rather late and rather out of the blue. I don’t think it was something that had been festering for a very long time but I stand to be corrected on that.
SO: Do you remember who, or which country was the main swing behind the boycott?
SM: No, I don’t.
SO: It will be in the Secretariat archives.
SO: Was there a debriefing after the Commonwealth Games? Did Sonny sit down with his key lieutenants at the Secretariat to think about how to manage the Commonwealth Games thereafter? You said that the Commonwealth Games Federation realised that they needed some political guidance.
SO: And was this provided by the Secretariat, or did they go elsewhere?
SM: I don’t remember specifically, but I do know that there was a clear understanding from here on that the Secretary General had to be much more involved in these issues and that there needed to be a closer relationship between the intergovernmental political side and Commonwealth sport. Now, I can’t quite remember in what year the CHOGM Committee on Sport was established but Terry Dormer was certainly the Liaison Officer for Sport for quite a while.
SO: So, as you say, it was an instance of Sonny being thwarted in terms of his charismatic diplomacy. He was not able to persuade African Commonwealth countries that they shouldn’t use the venue of the Edinburgh Games as a boycott…
SM: Because of Mrs Thatcher, effectively.
SO: It’s interesting too because you refer to Scotland having a strong record on sport and apartheid, in the Gleneagles Agreement of 1977.
SM: Yes. That wasn’t a specific Scottish initiative. It just happened to be in Scotland. But even so, Scotland had had a very long-lasting and strong record in terms of opposing apartheid, so they felt particularly cheated by the outcome, and they had had such a good Commonwealth Games in 1970. I think many thought they would simply repeat that great success and instead it turned into this terrible disaster.
SO: Do you recall Sonny trying to press Mrs Thatcher to take a firmer stance against a British Lions tour of South Africa?
SM: I really can’t remember the British Lions tour at all. Of course, the controversies surrounding the New Zealand tour of South Africa, and then the Springbok tour of New Zealand were ferocious. My personal feeling is that it was less a question about apartheid in sport and more a question of reacting to Mrs Thatcher on sanctions. There may have been some justification in terms of supporting apartheid but actually, the real essence of the disagreement and the boycott was disagreement with Mrs Thatcher about sanctions. It sat in the very middle of all that debate.
SO: Well, speaking of ‘sitting in the very middle of it’, you referred to the London mini-summit which was convened in August of 1986, and attended by seven Commonwealth heads.
SO: The Prime Ministers of Australia, India, Zimbabwe, Canada, Zambia and the Bahamas, with Prime Minister Pindling…
SM: …in the chair.
SO: How clearly do you remember that mini-summit?
SM: Well, I remember that pretty well compared with other things I don’t remember! What was particularly interesting, first of all, was that Marlborough House was the venue. Marlborough House hadn’t been used for a heads of government meeting of any kind since ’69. It had simply become too small – or, rather, the Commonwealth had got too big to fit into Marlborough House. This being a special summit, that was different. They reduced the table in the main Conference Hall to accommodate the seven heads. They used the Green Room as the lounge for the heads of government and we made various rooms available for heads of delegation. We had a security cordon around Marlborough House with military police on the roof and so on. Second, it was a fascinating summit. In particular, I think there was a mood of great confrontation which I think comes back to what happened over the Games, and a feeling that Mrs Thatcher was not going to give an inch on this. There is Sonny’s famous story of the dinner the night before at Buckingham Palace where the Queen was alone with the seven heads of government and with Sonny, and where, in Sonny’s words, she left the gathering in no doubt that she expected them to reach a result. Of course, it’s worth remembering that there had been that newspaper article.
SO: In the Sunday Times.
SM: In the Sunday Times. Yes.
SO: Yes, when Michael Shea, the Queen’s private secretary, was the reputed source.
SM: That’s right. And that added fuel to the flames. It was of course denied by Buckingham Palace but I think that a lot of people felt that it probably represented the private views of the Queen. Looking at it nowadays, it wouldn’t be very remarkable, would it? To deduce from that she was devoted to the Commonwealth. She would have grown up with it developing as a multiracial association and she would not have wanted a situation where it was being forced to the point of dissolution. However, at the beginning of the London meeting, Mrs Thatcher was immovable and she was also very insensitive in her reading of apartheid in South Africa. A lot has been made recently about how committed she was against apartheid and what a wonderful record she had. That wasn’t what came across. In front of notable African leaders, she gave a perspective that was very narrow, very white based, (showing) very little appreciation of what apartheid meant for black Africans or for Indians, or for coloured people. And she left the meeting at lunchtime and left Sir Geoffrey Howe to take over; it was in a very dangerous state as a result and it took Geoffrey Howe the afternoon to pull things back together.
SO: Peter Marshall said that the order of speakers was deliberately chosen so that Geoffrey Howe would speak early on in the proceedings – to ensure the voice of reason would be read into the record, as he put it – and to provide a certain calm to the very confrontational atmospherics of this meeting. What you are describing is that Thatcher was there and in obvious competitive mood at the start and then had to leave for other government business. So there was a degree of fortuitous rearrangement of the chairs and Geoffrey Howe was then speaking and able to calm discussion?
SM: Well, I stand to be corrected by the record and it would be really interesting to read. My recollection was that Mrs Thatcher spoke early in the conference in the morning, and then left at lunchtime; and it was in the afternoon that Geoffrey Howe came in and rescued things.
SO: Do you remember how he did it? The record will show his use of language, but not the manner of delivery.
SM: He had a much more emollient attitude and so he was much more soothing. He came across as being much more understanding of the total perspective.
SO: Had you known that when Mrs Thatcher met President PW Botha in 1984 that Geoffrey Howe’s son, as well as the British Ambassador to South Africa, John Leahy’s son, were at the anti-apartheid demonstration in Trafalgar Square?
SM: Oh really?
SM: [Laughter]. Brilliant. So I don’t recall the detail of what was said. If I read the record, I would be reminded of some of the key elements of the debate. Obviously, the meeting came to a conclusion that did admit some further agreed sanctions, as well as a list of measures which Britain absented itself from. Strangely, after that high water mark of getting Mrs Thatcher on board, she then had a period of hardening her stance. This was so at the ’87 Vancouver CHOGM and her attitude to the ANC as a terrorist organisation. And even up to the ’89 Kuala Lumpur CHOGM, on the eve of Mandela’s release, she was taking a very hard line.
SO: And the paradox is that this is the period – as you know better than most – in which Mrs Thatcher was recommending to President Botha that Nelson Mandela should be released; there were the exploratory probes to the ANC, and the Mells Park discussions. She was aware of the private contacts between South African business, and the exiles and opponents of the apartheid regime.
SM: Yes. It is very paradoxical and I don’t think I have a proper answer for that. Of course, she always had a very close and perhaps primary interest in East-West relations, the end of the Cold War and German reunification. The problems of apartheid in South Africa were of secondary importance in that respect and perhaps she was, in some respect, on autopilot in her approach. But I don’t know why she persisted for so long in such a negative view.
SO: Well, her negativity was on the question of economic and financial sanctions.
SO: Rather than on the question of change in South Africa.
SM: Yes, but she didn’t appear sincere about change in South Africa either. That was the key thing and that’s what came across in the special summit meeting. And it’s what came across in 1987, when she described the ANC as ‘a typical terrorist organisation’. By implication, at that point, three years before Mandela’s release when the South Africans were negotiating on this and other measures, she believed that Mandela was a terrorist. It’s a strangely contrary position to be in, I think.
SO: Of course, as you say, it’s not just the actual words used; it’s the impression that’s conveyed.
SO: Which is as powerful in politics, and can be longer lasting and susceptible to a degree of distortion: the presentation of policy, not simply its content.
SO: In terms of other issues which were starting to challenge the Commonwealth, between ’86 and ’87, there was also the question of the coups in Fiji in 1987.
SO: Fiji’s membership of the Commonwealth lapsed at the Vancouver meeting. How clear are your recollections of the diplomacy around that military overthrow of an elective government in Fiji? The first coup was in the May when Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka overthrew the elected government of Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra.
SM: At that stage there was no facility for suspension, so Fiji was effectively expelled. At the time of the second coup, they went through the same formula about a change to republican status that South Africa took in 1961 and with much the same outcome. They were reapplying for membership which, in most cases, would be a formality; but at that stage, it was clear from the results of the Retreat discussion at Lake Okanagan in the wings of the Vancouver CHOGM that they would not be welcome as a Republic or anything else within the Commonwealth membership. So it was not suspension; it was effectively expulsion.
SO: The politics and the diplomacy of all of this rolled out over the summer of 1987, because Prime Minister Bavadra tried to come to London. Was he in touch with Marlborough House that you recall? Was he trying to get into the Palace?
SM: I honestly don’t remember what contacts there were between Sonny and Bavadra in the summer, but I do think that one should appreciate that Sonny took a very strong line about Fiji. This was a ‘pro Bavadra line’, if you like, and this was by no means an issue that was unanimous in Commonwealth circles. There was some sympathy for the indigenous Fijian position and some were critical of Sonny, arguing that as the public servant of the Commonwealth, there was a limit to how far he could go – and a limit to how far it was wise for him to go – in trying to get the result that he wanted. And the result that he wanted in Vancouver at the Retreat was for the Commonwealth to make a clear statement about its values and about how these values had been abused by what had happened with the two coups. And he managed to do that, although he got criticism for putting himself on the line in that respect. I think Mrs Thatcher had some sympathy for the indigenous Fijians. She supported the line but with a degree of personal reservation. I think some in the Pacific felt that this kind of almost legalistic view was perhaps not the whole story. If anything, Sonny was criticised [on the grounds] that he went too far in effectively leading Fiji’s expulsion at Vancouver, rather than the other way around.
SO: Stuart, do you remember any discussion, or any concern that Fiji risked being another Sri Lanka? By that I mean that there was a potential for civil strife? There were press reports (I don’t know how reliable these were) of Indian arms shipments to Lautoka. Was there any sort of underlying, or indeed overt concern at Marlborough House that things could become violent?
SM: I don’t recall that. I think a coup in itself is a violent act, so even bloodless coups are violent in that respect, but I don’t think there was an immediate anxiety at that point. That came in 2000…
SO: When George Speight took the hostages in the Fijian Parliament.
SM: Yes, that was a very serious turn for the worse. But I think at that stage in the summer of 1987, here was a case where the Governor General continued, didn’t he?
SO: Yes, he did. It was Ratu Penaia Ganilau.
SM: Yes. And he continued for some while as a separate point of contact with Buckingham Palace keeping in very close touch with him. You know, rather similar to the Rhodesian experience after UDI.
SO: Sir Humphrey Gibb, holding out in Government House.
SM: Yes, but still continuing to try and maintain the Queen’s writ, as it were.
SO: Do you recall if Sonny was in contact in any way with Ratu Penaia?
SM: I know that there was contact. This was principally through the Palace and I don’t recall whether Sonny was in contact direct or how that was maintained. Of course, Fiji returned to the Commonwealth in ’97 at the Edinburgh CHOGM, and there was quite a lot of Commonwealth activity prior to that in terms of trying to redraft a constitution. I can’t remember when that process was put in train but it would have been probably the end of Sonny’s period, about ’89, or ’90. I can’t remember.
SO: One closely-involved journalist observer has speculated – I’m not quite sure on what basis – that there may have been a conditioning element for Sonny of ‘a wider Indian world’ – of a view of Indians in Fiji as now becoming ‘merely Fijian’, rather than the implicitly superior ‘indigenous Fijian’; and a concern that Indian communities had not been permitted to achieve positions of political influence and power in Guyana, and elsewhere. And that this may have subtly but importantly conditioned how he managed that particular challenge in Fiji in ’87. Did he ever comment, that you recall?
SM: No. [Pause]. And I would be very surprised if that was a real issue because after all, his own experience in Guyana, although he was an Indo-Guyanese himself by background, certainly didn’t impede his own participation in Guyanese politics and the predominance of the Afro-Guyanese leadership. I never heard that as an aspect. What would be much more important for him as Secretary General, would be the fact that a very major member like India was taking a hard line, understandably. And therefore, he would want to listen carefully to what India said and would want to balance that against a lot of other things. So people, as they do, want to write in those motives, no doubt, but I would have thought it was much more important to accommodate India and India’s wishes in any Commonwealth consensus on the issue.
SO: That was very much my sense, having lived in Fiji and followed Fiji politics since then. I personally identified India as being the crunch point, the linchpin of wider international political influence.
Stuart, you’ve commented before we started that the Vancouver CHOGM saw the setting up of the Foreign Ministers Committee on Southern Africa, chaired by Joe Clark. Joe Clark has taken part in this interview project, and given us considerable detail on CCFMSA. Please, if I could take you forward to the Kuala Lumpur summit. Dr Mahathir has been described as not being necessarily particularly sympathetic to the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth ideals before he came to power in Malaysia. I just wonder if you could add some reflections on Mahathir’s gradual acceptance of the value and the possibilities provided by the Commonwealth in its multiple fora?
SM: Yes. Well, I think the first summit that Mahathir came to as Malaysia’s Prime Minister was the Nassau CHOGM of 1985. And he began by being very critical of the Commonwealth, very dismissive of its value, and he set up a committee of officials to look at what possible value the Commonwealth had for Malaysia. After all, before that he had been very hostile to the UK with the ‘Buy British Last’ movement and so on.
SM: But the result of his internal inquiry in Malaysia was a positive one for the Commonwealth. It concluded that Malaysia could benefit very much from its membership. That led him to become a total convert to using the Commonwealth in a positive way and in particular, as part of his 20/20 Vision for Malaysia. The 20/20 Vision included the kind of major infrastructural issues that would help Malaysia to move down that path and certainly, Kuala Lumpur’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games in 1998 was important. These were the first Games held in Asia and the first Games, apart from Kingston in Jamaica, held in a developing Commonwealth country. So, certainly the 1998 Games; the Kuala Lumpur summit was ’89, wasn’t it?
SM: I believe he spoke in Vancouver at the ’87 CHOGM about his, as it were, conversion, when he offered Kuala Lumpur for the ‘89 summit. He had the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference, I think, around that time, and the annual Finance Ministers meeting. He had the Games, he had a whole string of other meetings, including the Commonwealth Press Union Conference in Malaysia. These meetings and events resulted in tremendous improvements to the sporting, the conference, transport and the hotel infrastructure in Malaysia. That’s not to say that there weren’t also continuing points of tension with the Commonwealth, as much as with anyone else. Chief Anyaoku admired him and had a lot of sympathy for him. He saw that he was the darling of the developing world, and recognised his leadership there and would have been less worried about some of the differences that would have upset developed countries. But that’s not to say that the Chief himself did not have difficulties with Mahathir. He did; and most notably was when the Chief was just beginning to institute a programme of election observer missions and when an election observer mission went to Malaysia…
SO: Neville Linton talked about that in the interview he gave me.
SM: Yes, and it took a lot of exchanges between Chief and Mahathir before they could agree. Emeka had to put his foot down in terms of the independence and integrity of observer missions. That was really quite important because the Kuala Lumpur meeting led onto the Harare CHOGM in ’91 and it was in Harare that Commonwealth Observer Missions were enshrined in the whole democracy programme. And of course, Mahathir chaired the High Level Appraisal Group that met immediately before Harare; so he was very much associated with this change. So if he couldn’t personally, in his own country accept the change, then it was going to be a fairly hollow policy to present to the world.
SO: How much was there also a geostrategic regional dynamic in Mahathir’s conversion to accepting the value of the Commonwealth, and its possibilities for providing an important platform for Malaysia? Do you know if Singapore and particularly Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was influential in persuading Dr Mahathir of the value of the Commonwealth – even if this was in a negative way? Whether in fact, there was a regional dynamic and dimension of Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei here, and the Commonwealth provided an additional platform to advance Malaysia’s individual national interests in the region?
SM: Well, again, I can only speculate. It’s a very interesting question but I think my interpretation would be exactly the opposite. I would think that the kind of pre-eminence of Lee Kuan Yew from Singapore would have been a reason why Malaysia was less interested in the Commonwealth. I think because of the whole history of Malaysia and Singapore…
SO: Of ‘Confrontation’ and the rupture of Federation?
SM: And the racial difference between the two states and all the rest of it. I think the last person who would be taking advice on the Commonwealth from Lee Kuan Yew would be Mahathir. Lee Kuan Yew embraced the Commonwealth in an intellectual sense, but not in a very practical sense. And Singapore has always seemed to struggle with some of the practical contributions. Some would say it was a reflection of a Chinese culture that saw greater virtue in self-help rather than charity, contributing to aid programmes or that kind of thing.
SO: So not a natural generosity towards the CFTC?
SM: No, not at all. Very small contributions to CFTC from Singapore and likewise to other Commonwealth programmes. Although their prosperity was rising very rapidly, this was not reflected in their generosity in contributing to Commonwealth programmes. So in a sense, Malaysia leapfrogged Singapore and went from being a sceptic to being an enthusiastic, and that gave Mahathir a much stronger voice in Commonwealth circles; and by then, of course, Lee Kuan Yew was no longer coming to meetings representing Singapore and although Mahathir didn’t take the mantle of an elder statesman, he was certainly a major player in the Commonwealth at that stage.
SO: I was just trying to situate the regional rivalry.
SM: Yes. I am not sure that Brunei would have featured very strongly in the mix. All credit to Don McKinnon that he has now brought the status of Brunei more to the fore. But amidst the growth of the democracy movement was this ambivalence about the status of Brunei.
SM: And that has now in recent years become rather more acute. On these very tricky issues, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group looked simply at the unconstitutional overthrow of governments and military regimes, and so on. Don McKinnon moved things further on, or attempted to, in terms of a focus on countries like Tonga and Swaziland. One could scarcely describe them as constitutional monarchies; no, they were absolute monarchies. But they are traditional societies with apparently a wide measure of political support.
SO: And these were hierarchical political cultures.
SM: Hierarchical, yes, possessing traditional forms of government but with some democratic structures also. So, in terms of the Secretary General’s good offices, there has been an attempt to move onto these last remaining countries, of which Brunei is one, where with the best will in the world, their democratic credentials are not particularly high.
SO: Nicely put. Going back to trying to encourage democratic credentials at the Harare CHOGM, to what extent were you actively involved in the drafting of the Harare Declaration? I understand that Sir Robert Armstrong ‘had another draft ready,’ but Chief Emeka has presented this as the product of having gone away on his own personal retreat and thinking about the Commonwealth in the changing international system, what was going on in South Africa, etc; and that he had to come forward with a new mission statement.
SO: Where were you personally in this drafting process?
SM: [Pause] I can’t remember in detail. All I can remember in general terms is that there was a lot of work in ’89, following the Kuala Lumpur meeting and the election of Chief Anyaoku. Much of this was centred on the Working Group of Senior Officials on the High Level Appraisal, commissioned by the 1989 CHOGM. This appraisal process was important to Chief Anyaoku and to the tone of his period in office as Secretary General. He had his personal retreat and then came into office in 1990 and involved himself in the final meetings of the Working Group. So, he was very involved in the build up to Harare, including with the Working Group. That was going to feed into the High Level Appraisal Group which had a one-day meeting of ten heads of government, chaired by Mahathir before the Harare meeting opened. There was a draft declaration which the Secretariat had worked on.
SO: Would this have been principally Max Gaylard as head of Political Affairs?
SM: It would have originated in Political Affairs, and Moses Anafu would have been involved and also SK Rao, but the Secretary General would have had a very close hold on the document. We went to Harare with the Secretariat draft which had been circulated around governments and certainly, Armstrong had a British draft. My recollection was that essentially, there was a marrying of the British draft and the Secretariat draft; that’s what I recall. And we went to the Retreat, which was at Elephant Hills by Victoria Falls. There were three of us from the Secretariat at the Retreat: myself, Lorna McLaren and SK Rao, tasked with helping service the Retreat discussions. The Harare Declaration was finally agreed at the Retreat by all heads, and then brought back to a full Executive Session in Harare. That’s my recollection.
SO: In terms also of other influences and inputs, how far did the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative have an ancillary role in encouraging a push towards the Harare Declaration? Or was that in fact incidental and autonomous, and really didn’t have any bearing on…?
SM: When was the…
SO: Well, let’s see. Richard Bourne considered the idea in 1988, so 1989 is when it was really gathering momentum. I’m just wondering when the CHRI set up offices in New Delhi.
SM: No, that move to New Delhi was later.
SO: It was ‘93, wasn’t it?
SM: The New Delhi offices were established later. CHRI first of all had a presence in London, didn’t it?
SO: Yes. I’m just wondering if the CHRI and human rights discourse within the Commonwealth were in any way influential?
SM: I think it would have added to the mix. I think that there was a lot of debate going on in the late ‘80s about the Commonwealth putting its own house in order, so that would have been a contributing influence, certainly.
SO: If Mrs Thatcher was under increasing fire for having been ‘the odd one out’ on the question of sanctions toward South Africa, was then the British riposte to this pressure a demand that the Commonwealth set its own house in order? That if Commonwealth countries were going to criticise the internal affairs of another sovereign nation, they should look at their own political rights record?
SM: Well, I don’t think it was quite in those terms. I think it was played out much more in the media and in particular between 1985 and 1990 as the debates about South Africa and sanctions got more acute. And some of the opinion expressed in the media in the UK would have been accusing the rest of Africa and the rest of the Commonwealth, in lots of cases, of being dictatorial, of ignoring human rights, of corruption and therefore double standards. But it would have been a much more sophisticated, nuanced version of that in the exchanges involving governments. I think that here was something that Chief Anyaoku himself became personally committed to and it became his mantra when he became Secretary General, resulting from his six month retreat before taking office. He understood that charge of double-standards and he set about persuading governments and helping them to realise that they ought to change. So I’m not sure that I think it would have been a British view exclusively that more needed to be done for the Commonwealth to put its house in order. I think a lot of the impetus would have come from the SG himself.
SO: Stuart, coming out of the Harare Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting was a Commonwealth initiative, a Commonwealth push led by Chief Emeka, to help South African transition. The Commonwealth had just successfully formally promoted democracy through the Harare Declaration. Nelson Mandela of course attended the Harare CHOGM and, it is said, advised delegates on how best to facilitate South Africa’s transition. I wonder if you could add some reflections, please, from your own personal stand point of where was the Commonwealth in that critical four year period, between 1990 and 1994, in helping and supporting South African transition?
SM: Yes, as far as I recall, Mandela had a closed session with heads. So, he would have had the opportunity of sharing his thoughts with heads of government in Harare, but I don’t know whether this formed part of the record at all. It would have been very much a closed session. I don’t think it had senior officials there: I’m not even sure it had Secretariat staff there, but from that point there was a fundamental change in the Commonwealth’s attitude to South Africa. The Chief was cautious about how warm the relationship with the South African government should become and at what speed. Later on, when the whole question of relaxing sanctions became an issue he talked about what he called the ‘Programme Management Approach to Sanctions’ because when things started to move in a positive direction, there were some who said, “Oh, sanctions should be lifted immediately.” Chief was very cautious about there being a gradual relaxation of sanctions and that each positive movement should be rewarded by a comparable relaxation of sanctions. It shouldn’t all be done in one go but in a managed way. Anyway, from Harare he went down to South Africa and he took me with him. I can’t remember, I have a feeling that we saw de Klerk, but we certainly saw Pik Botha.
I remember there being a lot of suspicion from the South African government initially. Here was this Commonwealth that had been a thorn in their side for so long, now saying it wanted to come along and help. I remember Chief with Pik Botha being quite disarming: when we first came into Pik Botha’s office being offered refreshments and Chief saying that he’d like a cup of rooibos – which I thought was a typical Chief touch to choose a…
SO: A quintessentially South African tea?
SM: …yes, and it was a very important ground breaker really in terms of changing mind-set and in seeing how the Commonwealth could help. I have to remind myself of the direct chronology, but CODESA I was ’91, was it?
SO: 1991, yes.
SM: ’91, yes. So one of the first things was to provide an international element to the negotiations. This was one of the Chief’s initiatives that it would provide local negotiators and the participants in the negotiations with some kind of reassurance if there was an international observation dimension at the negotiations.
SO: Was this formal observer status because CODESA was formed by the South African government to negotiate with the ANC for a new democratic constitution, but these were internal discussions?
SM: Yes, it was an internal process, but what the South African government and all parties agreed to, on the initiative of Chief Emeka, was that there should be international observers present as a means of reassurance. There is a report on the record of the Commonwealth’s observation of the CODESA process.
SO: Were the distinguished observers selected primarily because of their legal background?
SM: No, but the legal background would have helped. It was helpful that Geoffrey Howe was a lawyer, but certainly not a primary reason why he was there. Then of course as we went on, there was the development of COMSA, the Commonwealth Observer Mission in South Africa, and the effort around that.
SO: So again an initiative from Chief, a recommendation…
SM: Yes, the Chief actually got a UN Security Council resolution on South Africa and on the growing violence in particular between Inkatha, the PAC and the ANC. This resulted from his discussions, first, with Mandela, De Klerk and others, and, subsequently, with Boutros Boutros-Ghali and with Cyrus Vance, then the UN’s Special Representative to South Africa.
It was very much Chief’s initiative to deploy international observers in the flashpoints of violence in the East Rand and Natal in particular. That led to the deployment of the United Nations, Commonwealth, African Union and also European Union observers, under that UNSC Resolution [772, adopted unanimously 17 August 1992]. Now, in addition to the work of the observers trying to deal with the violence, the Commonwealth was putting in technical assistance, such as in the area of policing. There were a number of experts who were trying to help move the South African police from a very para-military kind of mind-set into a much more community policing approach.
SO: Was that under the auspices of the Commonwealth, or was that more a British bilateral assistance mission? They’re not necessarily contradictory, but…
SM: No, it was under the auspices of Commonwealth in that respect, though there was a lot of bilateral British funded support going in. But there was a Commonwealth presence on the ground which not only was there to deploy observers in potential flash points to address the violence, but also was providing technical assistance to the South African police; to the judiciary and to a whole range of other elements. That was done under the auspices of this Commonwealth mission, but quite a few of the personnel were British, including British policing experts. So my answer to you was that some of the funding for this was bilateral British funding, without necessarily going through a Commonwealth fund, but the delivery point was a Commonwealth delivery point.
Now, there was also another initiative which I think the British exclusively funded which was to do with police training and that exercise certainly involved Indian, Caribbean and British police. A whole number of Commonwealth police forces were involved. There was a proposal in ’93 or thereabouts to set up National Peace-keeping force which would go into the townships as a peacekeeping force and with the confidence of local people. I believe the acronym was NPKF, or something like that.
SO: It sounds like an early Soviet security service!
SM: Yes it does, doesn’t it? I know that once again there was an agreement that the Commonwealth would help with the training of this particular mission, but in the end I don’t think it came to anything or maybe it had a couple of months of rather unsatisfactory deployment and then it was scrapped. But the crucial thing that the Commonwealth was able to do was to move quickly, in a couple of months, to put something together which other participants wouldn’t have been able to do in anything like the same timeframe. I think that was important.
SO: Stuart, what was going on in Natal in this particular period? There were violent incidents all over South Africa at this time, but Natal was the scene of the worst fighting. Some people have described it as a civil war between Inkatha and the United Democratic Front, which represented the ANC.
SM: A low level civil war, yes.
SO: Certainly the violence was appalling. It’s estimated that approximately 14,000 people died in horrific circumstances, with approximately 22,000 casualties. What authority did the Commonwealth observers have to negotiate or mediate?
SM: There was an office in Natal. There were people permanently stationed there. Moses Anafu was in that category, and Moses did a lot of personal negotiation working with local churches, community groups and so on. Moses was a fantastic presence there; he was highly respected. I went down there briefly, to join the team. I remember going on Sharpeville Day in March 1993 to the East Rand where the Inkatha supporters were based in the hostels and were challenging the ANC. There was this whole debate about whether they could display their traditional weapons, which they successfully argued were ‘cultural symbols’, which they should retain.
At the end of the rally, there was a great danger that the Inkatha supporters would come out of the stadium and would start attacking the neighbouring ANC-supported areas. A little bit of that began, but Commonwealth and other observers were interposing ourselves to try and stop that happening. You don’t just observe in those circumstances; you try and persuade a very large Zulu brandishing a spear that perhaps it would be better if he went home, or whatever. So, yes, we did attempt to place ourselves between warring parties, and that would involve trying to explain what we were doing and what we hoped would happen. On occasions the violence got quite close. I know that some international observers got shot at and rocks were hurled at their vehicles and all the rest of it. But that was the purpose of the mission. Linked to that, Moses played a sustained part in negotiations and meditation in Natal.
SO: Was he in close contact with the ANC leadership and the negotiations back at Kempton Park?
SM: He would have maintained contact with key people, though I don’t think that he had a permanent presence in the room as an advisor. He certainly would be keeping in touch and feeding reports back to Chief Anyaoku, so that at crucial moments, when Chief’s intervention was needed, the Secretary General could ring up key people and see to what extent he or the Commonwealth could help. So that was going on certainly.
SO: I do know that on occasions when Mandela went to Natal and appealed for calm on both sides. There were sections of the ANC who felt that he was depleting his moral authority, that he was spending his political capital by appealing for moderation rather than keeping a united ANC stance against Inkatha.
SM: Yes, well that concern ran all the way through to the elections, didn’t it? When the elections finally happened, there was, by Commonwealth standards, a very big observer mission there for those elections. Whereas in the rest of South Africa, by and large, I think we felt the elections were free and fair. In Natal, I think many recognised that the niceties of the election were something else and that what the result there represented was some kind of political compromise. I think the Commonwealth observers there were pretty unhappy with what they saw and the travesty of the democratic process there; but it was recognised that there had to be some agreed result to give Inkatha its place in the sun. So these elections were not disputed.
SO: So, did the Chief play any particular personal role in his diplomacy of encouraging Chief Buthelezi to take part in those elections?
SM: Oh, yes, very strongly.
SO: So was he responsible in getting the Kenyan Professor, Washington J Okumu, there at the very last minute?
SM: Certainly Chief had many meetings with Buthelezi and his advisers. He also had meetings with forces on the right, including the Conservative party, with all sorts of people he was attempting to keep on board. Moses Anafu would certainly, on Chief’s behalf, go and keep in regular contact with Buthelezi. I went up several times with Chief to Ulundi to see Buthelezi.
SO: How did Buthelezi respond to this Commonwealth mission?
SM: I think, on the whole, quite well. There were all sorts of suspicions. There were fears that the Commonwealth was too much in the pocket of the ANC. Equally, the ANC would have been suspicious about the Chief being too friendly with Buthelezi. But I think Chief was well aware that there had to be a meeting of minds on the key issues. After all, when finally South Africa came to the elections there were about five apparently insuperable obstacles to them holding those elections. One of them was the sheer logistics of getting a country – most of whose people had not voted before in their lives – to take part in a very complicated election.
One of the small technical imperfections of the recently-released Mandela film [Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)] was that it gave a very simplified view of what those elections were like. The film provided a glimpse of a polling station. Actually, it was immensely complicated: the ballot paper was huge because it had a large number of parties on it. There was this last minute negotiation about whether Inkatha would boycott the election, or whether Inkatha would fight. Then, once they agreed to stay in, there had to be a strip stuck on the bottom of the ballot paper to include Inkatha. That was a massive task. People worried about the timing of all this. Voters were certainly voting for the presidency and I think they were voting in three lots of elections, the presidency; the national parliament…
SO: And the province.
SM: …and the province. That meant that you couldn’t expect a single voter to be out of the polling station under, whatever it was, six minutes or something. It couldn’t be done, and of course the only way it was possible was because people threw out of the window any ideas of starting and finishing times. They just went on until it was over.
SO: Was the Commonwealth giving advice to the South African electoral commission in drawing up of the ballot, in voter registration, voter education, in preparation of the ballet paper? Or was that entirely a domestic process?
SM: I would need to refresh my memory, but I’m pretty certain there was technical assistance going in on all these issues. So often, it isn’t just a case of deploying an election observer mission, there’s a lot of activity going in…
SO: Absolutely. It’s the preparatory work beforehand.
SM: A lot of people would say not enough, but certainly there was technical expertise going in. Then this was followed by the observer mission. But as I say, for a lot of people it was a miracle election because all these aspects, including the whole threat of a right-wing coup and right-wing violence. There were bombs going off and so on, a fear that…
SO: The very recent memory of the assassination of Chris Hani in ’93.
SM: Yes. So in that respect it was a miracle.
SO: Did you stay in touch with Pik Botha? I know he was not involved in the constitutional negotiations, even though a lawyer, but before 1994 while he was still Foreign Minister? Certainly foreign governments were beating a path to South Africa’s door, wanting to put up missions in South Africa, and as Foreign Minister, Pik Botha still had responsibility for the international dimension of South Africa emerging from its pariah status. Was Chief part of that process in any way?
SM: He was in touch with Pik Botha. There were regular exchanges with all the parties, as he attempted to exercise some influence for the better, yes.
SO: In terms of the Commonwealth and conflict mediation, South Africa is a remarkable success story with the Commonwealth as a significant, not overwhelming, but a significant contributory player. What about the possibilities of mediation in the Sri Lankan civil war because that was also becoming increasingly violent in the 1990s.
SO: Could your reflect on that?
SM: Yes, again I’d have to check the dates, but there was a window that opened. Chief certainly found that he was under a lot of pressure in the early ‘90s from certain Australian parliamentarians, because at that stage the Australian Tamil communities were rather more vocal than the Canadian. We now think of Canada as being a major source of Tamil lobbying, but initially it was Australia pressing for Commonwealth involvement in some sort of mediation. Chief of course rehearsed the familiar argument that the Commonwealth could only be involved with the consent of both parties. But he was working behind the scenes to see if he could be of help in this way. As he worked with President Kumaratunga, he got her assent to develop an initiative and he had a series of meetings with the Tamil Tigers, in Paris and in London. From that he developed some plans for Commonwealth mediation. The very first steps would have been ‘talks about talks’, and it would have been in a neutral venue, below the radar. I think initially there was some talk of the UK being the venue. The initiative got quite advanced to the point that he was prepared to send emissaries to see the Tamil leader Prabhakaran in his HQ in the Vanni, northern Sri Lanka. That was about to happen; but the Red Cross needed written agreement from the LTT that we could have safe access, but in the end that was not forthcoming. The Tigers gave a verbal agreement, but the Red Cross would not facilitate the visit without the written consent of both sides, so it became too problematic.
What we didn’t know at the time was that the initiative was widely known about in Sri Lanka and the Catholic Bishops in the north were very much behind it and were urging it on. I think had we realised then, and had the Commonwealth had more resources, one of the things that we could have done was to have established a presence on the ground, say in Jaffna, for liaison and for gathering local intelligence. Obviously, Chief was pursuing the approach in a highly confidential way, but it would have been, I think, very valuable to have some kind of related Commonwealth presence on the ground.
SO: Was he keeping a core group of Commonwealth heads informed of what he was doing? Or was he trying to be highly discreet and autonomous, and so was not in fact in touch with key Commonwealth leaders?
SM: He would have told the British because he needed to have some initial approval from the British to facilitate any such negotiations. In fact, I believe the British may have facilitated the talks with the Tigers that took place in London with the Chief, in terms of visas and so on. In principle, I think the UK government hinted that it would be willing to assist in terms of the UK as a location for any formal talks. Now, whether Chief talked more widely to other governments… It wouldn’t surprise me if he talked to the Indians, given their position and previous involvement.
SO: The political vital necessity of India’s involvement, given proximity and the whole question of flow of arms.
SM: Yes. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated…
SO: He was assassinated in ’91.
SM: …in ’91. India had had a very directive involvement and a very painful involvement in Sri Lanka.
SM: …which the Chief would have been sensitive to, I’m sure.
SO: Do you know if Chief had advanced discussions about particular Commonwealth funding for a permanent Commonwealth presence on the ground as a point of observation, as a mediation resource?
SM: It didn’t really arise at the time and I think he would have probably needed some persuasion on that because he liked to play things very close to his chest. He would see this very much as a personal initiative that he wouldn’t want to talk about widely. So, he probably might not have been attracted by the idea of any kind of permanent presence on the ground, unless he could be persuaded that actually the initiative was more widely known about than he suspected. And that presence might have been dressed up in some different way: I think he would also have feared that he might risk losing control of the process if he had a presence on the ground, and anyway, the Commonwealth couldn’t afford it.
SO: I was going to ask was it lack of funds that actually stopped this particular initiative? You said about the Red Cross required written confirmation from the LTTE of your safe conduct, but…?
SM: No, funds wouldn’t have prevented us undertaking that aspect of the operation, but certainly funds would’ve been an issue if we wanted to set up an office for six months or a year. Like the operations in South Africa in Natal, it would have involved securing bilateral funding for that from sympathetic governments – probably the Canadians and the British. That would have taken the initiative away from the kind of very confidential area that he would have wanted. So, I can see why he would have needed to be persuaded of the value of it, and we certainly didn’t get that stage.
SO: And there was no revival of the initiative during your time after that?
SM: Not after that, no, because the Norwegians took over and then the Norwegians were there for quite some while before that initiative failed.
SO: Did they in any way draw on your particular contacts or your experience to help them form any contacts, or was it an entirely autonomous peace initiative?
SM: I’m not aware of that. Whether Chief had any contact with Norwegian government I don’t know; he may have done.
SO: Please, Stuart, if I could ask you as my last questions on conflict mediation and dealing with military coups: the Auckland Summit saw the emergence of the Millbrook Declaration and CMAG. How much had the CMAG idea been in gestation before Auckland? I have been told repeatedly that it was Mandela’s outrage at the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa – his sense of moral affront at the Abacha regime’s decision to ignore his personal plea for clemency – which was key at this particular Commonwealth heads of government meeting. But there must have been important preparatory ground work before Auckland on CMAG.
SM: Yes. Well, I think Chief Emeka felt at an early stage that something more was needed beyond the Harare Declaration. The programme for democracy that he had instituted had to be more than a basket full of carrots in that respect. There had to be a hint of a stick there as well and I think he was clear on that quite early on; but it was a question of when could that become a realistic proposition. He was certainly talking about a mechanism of some sort well in advance of the Auckland meeting. I know the British had their own views about it. It wasn’t called CMAG, but I believe they talked about a committee or action group of some sort.
SO: With the Foreign Office? With Number 10?
SM: I think it was with the Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office.
SO: Not the Cabinet Secretary, the Permanent Under-Secretary?
SM: I think so. He may well have talked elsewhere as well. Of course this was immensely sensitive because in his own country he was in the firing line and I think he was very courageous on this as well. It showed a lot of personal courage to pursue the principle regardless of what it might mean for him. Because, after all, Nigeria’s departure from the Commonwealth – which was highly likely, in the light of their suspension – would have put his own personal position in jeopardy.
SO: Do you think it would have made his position as Secretary General untenable?
SM: I think it might have done, yes. I think technically he might have been able to carry on because the rule that we had in the Secretariat was that you served out your contract until its end. Then, if your country is no longer a member of the Commonwealth, you leave. I think in the case of a Secretary General, it would be very odd for a Secretary General from a country no longer in membership to continue. I would have thought it would have made his position untenable. For years I had a pre-prepared statement in my in-tray on Nigeria’s departure from the Commonwealth, awaiting that eventuality, because we expected it at any moment. Nigeria is a big and proud country and to be suspended from membership and be treated in this way is not something that they would have treated lightly. After all, the Abacha regime was itself a very unpredictable and volatile form of governance which seemed to only operate at night time.
SO: In terms of drawing up the idea of a Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, you’re suggesting that this was a cross fertilisation of ideas between Political Affairs, the Office of the SG and possibly the Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign Office? Or do you think there were separate drafts that were developed in different camps?
SM: The initiative would have very much come from the Chief himself. It wouldn’t have originated in Political Affairs, though he would have got the Division involved. I certainly remember the drafting of the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme. That would have involved Political Affairs as well as the Office of the SG but the specific mechanism was something which I think the Chief kept pretty much under wraps; but he was insistent that the whole furore about Ken Saro-Wiwa and Nigeria’s execution of the Ogoni Eight should be separated out from the question of establishing CMAG. So from my recollection, at the Retreat, first of all the question of the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme and the question of CMAG was agreed, and then the issue of Nigeria was addressed. I think that was the sequence.
SO: How much preparatory diplomacy did the Chief embark upon in the run up to Auckland to try and set the stage for the acceptance of a Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group?
SM: I think it was very significant. He always prepared for heads of government meetings very carefully with many bilateral meetings with heads of government. He would have had some of these meetings ‘above the line’, as it were, and some of them would have been tête-à-têtes with the head concerned. It may well have been that he would have reserved something like this for ‘below the line’ discussion which the official record wouldn’t reveal at all. It would be inconceivable for Chief to go to Auckland with a proposal like CMAG and not to have had substantial backing from all the major players. Though it still would not have been a ‘done deal’!
SO: Do you remember any apprehension on his part that he wasn’t going to be able to persuade heads of the need to endorse the CMAG idea?
SM: Yes, absolutely. I know that he felt that he was sailing close to the wind on this, but this is where paradoxically the whole Ken Saro-Wiwa tragedy was a bonus in that regard…
SO: It helped to make sure there was no opposition, but the preparatory ground work beforehand would also have been critical in leading up to heads’ acceptance?
SM: Yes, it was critical, but it wasn’t necessarily decisive and it was actually the behaviour of Chief Tom Ikimi, the Nigerian Foreign Minister, who at the Opening Executive Session behaved so boorishly. That, coupled with the terrible circumstances of the execution, made CMAG much more of a certainty. The execution of Saro-Wiwa was badly bungled.
SO: Yes it was.
SM: It was horrific, coupled with the fact that Ken Saro-Wiwa’s son was present in Auckland and was trying to lobby for his father. As you say, Mandela felt that he had invested personal capital when pleading for Saro-Wiwa’s life and then he felt betrayed. That was the thing I think that pushed heads firmly into the CMAG camp and that’s why Chief’s approach was to say, “Let’s first of all deal with the principle of this mechanism. Then, once we’ve agreed the principle, we move on to how we deal with Nigeria.” Mandela was initially leading the charge for Nigeria’s expulsion, and not for anything short of that. But then heads invoked – I think Chief would have argued for this – the procedures in Millbrook that they’d just adopted and the idea of there being a substantial process of engagement thereafter. I think in the period from Auckland through to the caretaker administration and the return of Nigeria to democracy in 1999, there were something like sixteen missions or meetings. It was an intensive period of activity involving Nigeria. I’m not just talking about SG’s meeting – these were CMAG or CMAG-related. It was a baptism of fire for CMAG, which was set up with Don McKinnon as the Vice Chair and Stan Mudenge as Chair.
SO: He was the Foreign Minister from Zimbabwe?
SM: Yes. That perhaps again is one of the ironies. I think, the work was very positive and of course the military coup in Pakistan was in ’99, wasn’t it?
SO: Yes, it was.
SM: I went on a CMAG mission there to meet Musharraf, the new military leader. Lloyd Axworthy, the Canadian Foreign Minister, was leading the mission, and I was coordinating the Secretariat support team. We produced a report for the Durban CHOGM on Pakistan. There was CMAG engagement with Pakistan, but nonetheless they were immediately suspended.
SO: Yes, they were. The coup took place on 12th October, CMAG suspended Pakistan six days later, on 18th October. That’s pretty prompt.
SO: Stuart, I’m going to stop there. Thank you very much indeed. I’m really grateful.
[END OF AUDIOFILE PART TWO]
 UNSC 772 “authorised the secretary-general to deploy, as a matter of urgency, UN observers in South Africa to work in coordination with the structures set up under the National Peace Accord. It invited him to assist in the strengthening of those structures in consultation with the relevant parties. It also called upon international organisations such as the OAU, the Commonwealth and the European Community to consider deploying their own observers in South Africa. Angela King, a senior official of the UN from Jamaica, was appointed to head up the UN Observer Mission in South Africa (UNOMSA); she took up her post on 23 September. By the end of October 1992, 50 UNOMSA observers were deployed in all 11 regions of South Africa designated in the National Peace Accord. By 22 December, there were 17 observers from the Commonwealth, 14 from the EC and 11 from the OAU in South Africa. UNOMSA’s deployment was weighted towards the Witwatersrand/Vaal and Natal/KwaZulu regions, where 70 per cent of the political violence had occurred.” Taken from Enuga S Reddy: The United Nations and the Struggle For Liberation in South Africa,p.94, http://www.anc.org.za/docs/misc/1992/roadtodemocracyl.pdf