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Biography: McAskie, Carolyn. Born in Glasgow, Scotland. Joined the Canadian civil service in 1968. Assistant Director of Finance and Personnel, Commonwealth Secretariat, 1975-80. Canadian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, 1986-89. Career with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), where she served as Vice-President for Africa and the Middle East Programs and Vice-President of CIDA’s Multilateral Programmes Branch, holding the rank of Assistant Deputy Minister from 1993-99. Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, United Nations Secretariat, 1999-2004. Special Representative of the Secretary General and Head of the UN Peacekeeping Operation in Burundi, 2004-06. Assistant Secretary General for Peacebuilding, United Nations, 2006-08. Senior Fellow, Graduate School of Policy and International Affairs, University of Ottawa.
SO: Dr Sue Onslow (Interviewer)
CM: Carolyn McAskie (Respondent)
SO: This is Sue Onslow talking to Carolyn McAskie on Monday, 13th May, 2013. Carolyn, thank you very much for coming along to Senate House to talk to me. Please, could you begin by saying how you came to join the Commonwealth Secretariat in the 1970s?
CM: Sonny Ramphal was appointed as Commonwealth Secretary General in 1975 and I was his first Diplomatic appointment. He’s forgotten that, actually. He was referring to someone else as his first appointment at one point, and I thought, “No, no, I was!” I remained a member of the Canadian civil service, in the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). The Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation offered the post of Assistant Director for Finance and Personnel Services to the Canadians and asked Canada to nominate some candidates for it.
SO: Was that because Canada was a principal funder for the CFTC?
CM: I think we were the second. The UK was usually the first, and we were the second, and there was the sense that Canada would have at least one position in the Fund. The Fund was a distinctly separate part of the Secretariat in those days. With a later reform, a lot of it got moved into Secretariat divisions and the lines between the Secretariat and the Fund became blurred. But in the mid-1970s and into the 1980s, the Commonwealth Fund was a clear entity reporting to an Assistant Secretary General, who was the Managing Director of the Fund. When I was there it was Tony Tasker, and then David Anderson.
SO: So, you’d been a Canadian career diplomat up to this point?
CM: I’d been in the Development Service. The Foreign Service was separate from the Department of Development, CIDA. I joined the government in 1968. I had served three years in the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi because development officers went abroad to countries where there were development programmes. I came back from Kenya, and this job was available. I applied for it and I was offered the job. I was far and away the youngest diplomatic officer in the Commonwealth Secretariat: mostly, they were men in their 50s and I was a 30-year-old woman. So, it was an unusual appointment.
SO: But you said that you were Sonny Ramphal’s first diplomatic appointment: had you been head-hunted? Or were you the Canadian government’s appointment?
CM: No, the Secretariat chose from amongst the candidates that Canada put up. Canada put up candidates. We were all flown to London, we were interviewed and I was offered the post. And then, officially, I had to be appointed by the Secretary General, because I was diplomatic rank.
SO: So, what was your view of the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Secretariat before you joined?
CM: I didn’t know very much about it. After working in Kenya, I wasn’t very keen to stay in Ottawa, and when the job vacancy was posted in my department I started checking it out. I was UK-born: I was born in Glasgow, so I had UK roots. And I had served in Kenya. I was very interested in the multilateral sphere, and my studies were very much focused on political science with a focus on the United Nations. I thought it would be very interesting to work for a multilateral organisation like the Commonwealth. And I was used to multi-cultural environments, so the thought of going back to Canada and just working for the Canadians was unattractive. Then, at the Commonwealth Secretariat, I was able to work with people from all over the world.
SO: But from your initial description, you suggest that – in terms of diplomatic appointments – you were a young woman coming into a hierarchical, overwhelmingly male world?
CM: Yes, looking back, I had no idea what a pioneer I was! Now I do. I just did it. I loved it. But I also know it wasn’t easy, and I did not have the same influence that older male colleagues had.
SO: So, what was the particular responsibility of the CFTC?
CM: The Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation under the Managing Director managed all aspects of technical assistance in the Commonwealth. There was a Programme Department which looked after assistance to Africa, Commonwealth Caribbean, [and] Pacific Asia, and then my department – Finance and Personnel – which sounds like Headquarters administration. It wasn’t. It actually ran the finances of the Fund as a whole. And the personnel side, which was my main responsibility, managed the selection and managing of the experts in the field. So, my job was to oversee a department within the Commonwealth Fund that recruited and managed all of the development expert contracts.
SO: In terms of the actual source funding – as this was budget allocation – were you involved in negotiations with the Canadian government, the British government, or the Australian government?
CM: Yes, we had to prepare funding proposals for the Fund as a whole on an annual basis. We didn’t have to go out to get individual funding for projects. Are you familiar with the different contributions to the running of the Secretariat? The Secretariat budget proper was approved by the Finance Committee, and once the budget was prepared, everybody paid their percentage as an assessment. The Fund was a voluntary development fund, so all the members of the Commonwealth – if they wished to – could put money in the pot, but there was no obligation to pay a set amount. So, on an annual basis, we would prepare long-term rolling budgets to say, “This is the level of requests we’re getting. This is what it costs us to keep people in the field and this is what we anticipate to have, and what typically would be in the future.” It would be very much a fundraising document, and the Directors of the Fund and the Secretary General particularly and the Managing Director had, as a key responsibility, the constant appeal to Commonwealth members to put more money in the Fund, because the demands from developing countries were very high. Developing countries really liked the Fund because it was way ahead of the UN in that it used developing country experts as well as developed country experts. It wasn’t a North-South thing. It was North-South and South-South.
SO: Carolyn, in that this was a voluntary fund and you were having to make applications to potential donor governments for ongoing financing of these projects, did that lend itself to short-term expert contracts rather than larger scale projects, because of financial limits?
CM: It was never set up as a project organisation. No, it was a source of human resources for newly emerging Commonwealth nations. It was set up at the time when the Commonwealth expanded and the new Commonwealth members were coming on board, and they would turn to the Fund to fill the job vacancy or to provide advisory services.
There was also a special unit within the Fund called the Technical Assistance Group (TAG), and they themselves were experts. They would go out and advise governments on constitutional law, on finance and tax matters. But the Fund proper would provide an advisor in the Department of Education or an expert in the audit line. And there were often tricky little political things. I remember one case – I don’t know about the details, as it’s a long time ago. The government of Tanzania had had a rather bad audit and there was a British expert in the British government, [but] they did not want – politically – to go to the UK and say, “Would you help us?” It was just too sensitive.
SO: I was going to say! As the ‘former colonial power’, it would have been problematic.
CM: Right, so, they came to the Commonwealth Fund and as the Commonwealth Fund, we hired this guy in about 48 hours and had him out there. And he went as a Commonwealth expert.
SO: Rather than as a British government official.
CM: So, there were things like that that the Fund could do that were more sensitive. And there were some places where we had quite a large number of experts – some of the Caribbean Islands, the Bahamas, Tanzania, Kenya, Sierra Leone…
SO: Given that the 1970s was also the third wave of decolonisation of the Pacific, was this also an expanding area of TAG activity?
CM: Well, it was, and that’s where the constitutional assistance came in. The Technical Assistance Group provided Commonwealth nationality constitutional experts to sit on the government side in their negotiations for independence with the UK government. One of the wonderful advantages of the Commonwealth was the shared law and shared legal systems, parliamentary systems, and government systems. And, so, a constitutional expert from India could sit on a team with Vanuatu and Kiribati and some of the smaller Caribbean Islands for the negotiations with the UK. Things like the Bougainville Agreement on copper, too, were negotiated by Commonwealth experts. Now, I’m not sure how Papua New Guinea became part of the Commonwealth…It must have been a British Territory…
SO: Papua New Guinea used to be an Australian mandate.
CM: That was it. So, that’s why it came under the Commonwealth. Yes, thank you; you’re quite right.
SO: In the same way that Niue was part of the New Zealand mandate in the Pacific. How much did your particular division benefit from the interest and focus of the Secretary General?
CM: The division directly?
SO: I’m just wondering about the way in which the Secretariat worked at the time: the way that organisations’ or a particular division’s work can be influenced if there is particular interest, energy and focus from the top, which then emphasises particular areas and Divisions in their activities, while others just bumble along.
CM: There was an Export Market Development Division and I think it got much more interest from the senior management. They worked quite closely with the Economic Affairs Division of the Secretariat.
There were tremendous jealousies within the Secretariat for the fact that the Secretariat functional departments – Agriculture Division, Economic Affairs Division, Legal Division, [and] Health Division – had no discretionary money, because this was not approved in the Secretariat Budget. They themselves could provide advice to governments but they didn’t have any discretionary funds.
SO: So, there was Divisional infighting for funding?
CM: Well, except in those days it wasn’t departmental infighting. The CFTC had a hard line around it. We had a cordon sanitaire. That’s the explanation for what Emeka Anyaoku as the Secretary General did in realigning the divisions and breaking up reporting lines.
SO: His autobiography, Inside the Modern Commonwealth, sets this out very clearly.
CM: And it was because they resented the fact that this money came just to the CFTC. We saw ourselves as the guardians of the poor. Our money was to provide funding for demands made by recipient countries, not by the Secretariat. The Secretariat couldn’t say, “Well, we think we should do such and such,” and dip their hand in the pot and go off and do it.
SO: So, these were recipient-led requests to CFTC?
CM: Very much. It really was a wonderful recipient-led process, and the director of the division that I reported to, Ken Bain, was very good on protecting that. He was a New Zealander, via Fiji. He’d been in the Fiji Commonwealth service.
SO: How much of that was also a deliberate policy of nation-building by CFTC: to support state capacity and thereby to enhance sovereignty post-independence?
CM: Oh, very much so. And it was one of the strengths of the Commonwealth that these countries saw the Commonwealth Fund – which was small amounts of money compared to UNDP or any donor relationship – but they saw it as theirs. And a lot of them contributed a little bit. If you look at the financial print-outs of the time, you’ll see all sorts of governments who would put money into the pot as well. Poor governments would put a couple of thousand quid into the Fund. That’s different to their contributions to the Secretariat. You see, they had to contribute to the Secretariat. If you’re the member of an organisation, you have to pay your dues – even if it’s 0.02%. It’s the same as in the UN. For example, Tonga pays a tiny amount and the US will pay 25% of the budget.
SO: Or not, since the US is in substantial arrears to the UN! So, this was very much an ethos of contributing to a ‘hardship fund’, but then in the confident expectation that you would benefit?
CM: And you might even provide the odd expert, although it was more countries like Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, India and Sri Lanka who provided expertise.
SO: In terms of expertise, did you have a particular pattern of appointment or did you have to make political choices? Were you going solely on identification of expert need, or did you have to be sensitive also to the question of, “Well, we’ve had so many Canadian experts. We need to balance this by so many Indian experts”? To a certain extent, all organisations are political.
CM: A little bit. There was a point at which somebody called the Commonwealth Fund, “Dial an Indian”! It was not political. It was supply and demand, given the number of educated, qualified Indians who were available for assignment and, with large levels of unemployment at home, far exceeded the numbers of people that would go from other countries. So, especially if you were looking for people with government experience, it was hard to spring loose from the Canadian government someone to go for two years. They had a job; they couldn’t go.
SO: Exactly, with different pressures on them, which included family pressures.
CM: We had a roster which we kept alive, and we would advertise around the Commonwealth all the time. We had a very live roster, and we used it a lot.
SO: But, in terms of Indian expertise, was there a degree of thinking that it could be politically sensitive? Was the Fijian government necessarily going to be happy to accept an Indian expert?
CM: In 1975, yes. Now? No, probably not. But in those days, yes, and anyway, we would deal with that by sending them a selection list to choose from. But the one way we cut costs – because we just couldn’t afford to – was we didn’t interview these people.
SO: So, you were going on curriculum vitae and recommendations?
CM: Yes, and we just sent them out. And a surprisingly high number of them worked out. Makes you wonder about the interview process! [Laughter]
SO: But in terms of your ongoing support of these experts, did you have systems for monitoring their various activities?
CM: Yes, they had to send in reports and we would do field trips from time to time. If there were problems, we would have a special field trip, but we would do review missions and go to different countries. There were a couple of times where I would go out to some place because there was a problem between the experts and the government. I would more often go out if there were contractual problems. I had colleagues in the General Technical Assistance (GTA) Division, who dealt with the governments. Do you know the name Jeanne Schoenberger?
SO: No, I don’t.
CM: You should talk to Jeanne. She was Tony Tasker’s Senior Executive Assistant, and then worked in David Anderson’s office and then moved to GTA. She spent a lot of her time dealing directly with Pacific and Caribbean Islands, and she was in the CFTC for quite a long time long after I left. She was there until the late 1980s.
SO: Carolyn, was this development work also part of the intellectual climate of the New International Economic Order? Academics like to say that this was an era of state-led economic development and the emergence of ideas of restructuring the international economic system. I wondered if ideas mattered to you at all in your work, and whether you were attentive to new intellectual currents?
CM: Within the Fund, I would say less so. Within the Political and Economic Affairs Divisions of the Secretariat, I would say much more so. Our focus was very practical in helping getting these governments the kind of basic capacity that they needed. It’s what would have been called ‘capacity building’ in the 1980s and 1990s, and it was in fact filling the gaps for new governments.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with the schemes that the UK and the French governments had in the post-colonial years, where large numbers of expatriate civil servants were provided to former colonies. The difference between the French and the English is [that] the French stayed and the English were phased out. But I remember best the British Overseas Civil Service. When I was in Kenya as a CIDA field representative, they had thousands of people in the government. It was a way of job filling until the Kenyans came on board.
The Commonwealth Fund was a similar scheme, but on a much more focused level. We didn’t have the volume to provide, say, one hundred teachers, but we did have the capacity to put somebody in the Office of the Director of Education to help him or her – there were not very many ‘hers’ in those days – to design the department. So, as I say, it was very focused. It was usually one on one, to provide one body at a time. Sometimes it would be to provide a team, but more often one at a time.
SO: Did you have particular areas of activity in your position? You talked about the third wave of decolonisation in the Pacific, but what of the small states in the Caribbean?
CM: Yes, and again, it was providing advisors to them on export issues: to advise the government on what they should be doing to develop growth programmes.
SO: I was going to say [that] these were the years in which African governments, particularly, had rising levels of indebtedness and falling commodity prices. They needed to diversify their economies whilst also attempting to maintain social welfare provisions, expanding education and health programmes.
CM: It’s pre-Structural Adjustment.
SO: Yes, it is. Did you have many debates how to address these challenges of development?
CM: The Technical Assistant Group was staffed in a very different way, in that the Head of the TAG was Gordon Goundry and one of the Senior Advisors was Mike Faber, who later became the Director of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. These people were senior academics and intellectuals, and they were the ones that were sitting down and thinking about those issues. My Division’s responsibility was to get the bodies out, and so we didn’t get involved in that too much. And I, personally, had not dealt with those issues. I won’t say it was just an administrative process, because it wasn’t – we were dealing with the governments and looking at whether or not we could provide the assistance. But there was not very much vetting. The governments were asking because they wanted X and we were able to provide X.
SO: So, you were responding to need?
SO: So, it was the Gordon Goundry and Mike Faber types who would have been debating the implications of the Berg Report from the World Bank?
CM: Yes, exactly. And they would be dealing with other institutions and having those kinds of discussions.
SO: How long were you at the Secretariat?
CM: Five years. I left in 1980. I spun it on as long as I could! [Laughter] I was officially a Canadian civil servant all the time – I was on secondment – and I came out for two or three years, I got an extension, and then another extension, and then Ottawa said, “Fish or cut bait!” And so I went home.
SO: Before you went home, how much do you remember Zimbabwe and Uganda causing problems for the Commonwealth?
CM: Uganda, no, but I was there at the time of the Lancaster House negotiations and we thought Robert Mugabe was the best thing since sliced bread. He was coming in from exile in Mozambique and there was going to be the new Zimbabwe. He and Joshua Nkomo came to Lancaster House. We were all pro-liberation and anti-Ian Smith and UDI, and these guys walked in and impressed us all. I remember the reports when the British press discovered that Robert Mugabe was not just a lousy terrorist, [that] he and his cabinet-in-exile had more degrees than the British cabinet. This was a bunch of very bright men.
SO: Very bright. I’ve read the Zimbabwe Manpower Survey that they put together in 1979, when they were debating, “Okay, if we get power, what are we going to do with it? And how are we going to take advantage of this particular political economy? How are we going to deal with the question of land, how are we going to use the ‘productive forces’?”
CM: So, at that particular moment it was a high for the Commonwealth. Certainly, the people I was talking to – and I was still not that senior an employee, even though I was part of a diplomatic group… We weren’t to know it would go so badly wrong.
SO: I don’t see an inevitable ‘end run’ from the Lancaster House settlement to the tragedy of the Zimbabwe of 2005-07.
CM: No, nor do I.
SO: Were you involved in any of the discussions on how to help provide experts for Zimbabwe in 1979, 1980?
CM: Not really, because that was handled more at the political level.
SO: I know that, in the latter part of the 1980s, Carl Wright was very much part of discussions around how to advise on what South Africa might need post-independence. It strikes me that Zimbabwe was a learning curve for the later South African Commonwealth Assistance Programmes.
CM: Yes. But no, I’ve no recollection of that.
SO: So, by the time you did have to leave Marlborough House, what was your view of the Commonwealth by then?
CM: I felt that it was a very effective mechanism that should be protected. What was interesting was that I went into the multilateral branch in CIDA and became part of the division that ran Canada’s contribution to development institutions, and that included the funding for the Commonwealth.
SO: So, you were on the other side of ‘the fence’.
CM: I was on the other side of it. So, I was very much part… Not immediately, because when I first went back I was responsible for the UNDP, but then, a couple of years later, when I was promoted and had more of an overview of the institutions, I had the Commonwealth and La Francophonie under me. And what you need to know, actually, as an aside – and I think this is an interesting aside – is that the inner workings of La Francophonie, L’Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, were similar to the CFTC.
SO: The ACCT? Was the Commonwealth a prototype for this?
CM: Yes, it was. The ACCT was modelled on CFTC. People from Paris came over to London to look at CFTC and to talk about how it was run.
SO: Were you part of those discussions?
CM: No, I don’t think I was. I’ve a feeling it happened after I’d left the CFTC and before I actually became responsible for La Francophonie. I didn’t have too much to do with that at the time. Now I would have, because I’m fluent, more or less, in French. But in those days, I was pretty good in French, but not good enough to sit in on complicated international negotiations.
SO: You said you were born in Glasgow. Where did your family live in Canada, after your parents moved there?
CM: British Columbia. Yes, I went to university in British Columbia. But I went east in 1968 to join the government. I had studied French at school and it was one of my majors at university.
SO: Did you have to be bilingual to join the Canadian Foreign Service at that point?
CM: The Canadian government – the Federal service. You had to commit to being bilingual. And they had very good language immersion training programmes – French and English, depending on where you came from. I went into immersion training right away. I had six years in high school and four years of university training, so the immersion for me just took me over the top. For those who were starting from scratch, it was much harder.
SO: Yes, it would have been – enough to reduce grown men to tears. In the 1980s, then, you were back in Ottawa responsible for development and Commonwealth funding.
CM: I used to come and sit on the Commonwealth Board. I would sit behind the seat that said ‘Canada’, and I was a very sympathetic member of the board. At that time, they were already struggling for funds and it was harder to maintain interest. There was a feeling in Ottawa that the Commonwealth was something which we should hang on to, but there were very, very few people in Canada who saw it as something that should be strengthened and funded and given increased attention.
SO: Was that because so much of the political attention was devoted to the struggle against apartheid South Africa? So that it eclipsed other areas of Canadian activity towards the Commonwealth?
CM: I’ve often wondered why there was such a lackadaisical view of the Commonwealth. I really should, to be fair, try and answer that question. I think that it was just that there were a lot of people that didn’t know the Commonwealth and who didn’t understand it. A lot of people saw it a little too much as a British organisation. What really used to horrify us, when I was there, was how many Brits still called it the ‘British Commonwealth’.
SO: It’s still in the British political psyche as being a British institution, rather than having in reality evolved into something different.
CM: But for the Canadians, there was a usefulness because we were a senior member of an organisation that spread around the world. And there was a certain interest, from time to time, to use the Commonwealth as an entry point into other negotiations, but to my mind that was a tool that was sadly neglected. Canadian ministers attended Commonwealth ministerial conferences, many of which were held prior to broader international conferences.
SO: Such as the Commonwealth Finance Ministers meeting just before the annual IMF and World Bank meetings?
CM: And Commonwealth Agricultural Ministers met before the FAO. The World Health Organisation assembly was always preceded by a Commonwealth Health Ministers meeting in Geneva. I attended Commonwealth Finance Ministers Meetings in the Maldives and in Washington, a Commonwealth Agriculture Ministers Meeting in Rome, and a Commonwealth Women’s Ministers meeting in Ottawa. I think I felt it depended very much on the personality of the Minister. If the Minister felt that there was something useful, then attention would be paid. But we went to the Agriculture Ministers Meeting [and] the Canadian Agriculture Minister of the day was a bit of a buffoon. So, that’s all I remember from that meeting, and how embarrassing it was to be in his delegation!
SO: International Relations theorists like to talk about the structure of the international system and how this determines what states do. Yet, the Commonwealth is a global sub-system which typifies how important personality, personal networks and the role of personal agency can be.
CM: Well, I think for Canada it was things like the Commonwealth Ministers and CMAG – the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. When we had people like Lloyd Axworthy and Joe Clark, then it became a vehicle for very positive Canadian action. The earlier anti-apartheid struggle was one of the major foreign policy priorities for the Mulroney government, which is why the one time I got really angry with a friend of mine – who worked for Emeka Anyaoku – [was] when she discovered that Canada wasn’t going to vote for Emeka. We voted for the Australian candidate for Secretary General.
SO: For Malcolm Fraser? He was the rival candidate.
CM: Yes, and our Prime Minister had promised him a vote without really thinking it through. And somebody very close to Emeka – [who] was a good friend of mine – accused the Canadians of being racist, and I said, “Look, I’m not a Conservative. I don’t particularly like Brian Mulroney, but that’s the last thing you could call him after what he’s done for apartheid. Whereas your Prime Minister [i.e. Margaret Thatcher] would deserve to be called that, as she didn’t think South Africa was ready for black self-government.” And I got really, really angry! So, I think the Commonwealth as a vehicle for that was important. It was a small pond where we could be a big fish.
SO: Please, Carolyn, could I also ask you, in your experience, how important was the issue of race and racialism as an ongoing political issue within the Commonwealth? Was it an undertow? The focus has always been on apartheid in South Africa, but there were sensitivities for newly independent nations towards the former colonial power: issues of migration, hangovers of former white Dominions and their own racial policies which, by the 1970s, had diminished, but…
CM: I’m probably the wrong person to ask, because Canadians tend to be a bit Polly Ann-ish about these things. To me, it was just so thrilling to be in a multicultural environment.
SO: You and Mary Mackie.
CM: Mary’s the one that called me a racist.
SO: Did she now? She has passionately held views.
CM: Well, she was a very passionate supporter – indeed, something of a blind supporter – of Emeka Anyaoku. It was Emeka who was out to get the Fund, so…
SO: Yes, he was determined to put himself in charge of CFTC.
CM: He was determined to disband the CFTC. He was going to dismantle the decision-making process so [that] it was more integrated with the Secretariat. To my mind, it was like putting the UN under the Department of Political Affairs. By this time, I was doing a lot of work on UN affairs, and I felt that they were destroying the purity of the response mechanism to recipient governments.
SO: So, under Chief Emeka, the drive was to politicise CFTC? It was going to become too bureaucratic, rather than responding swiftly to need?
CM: Jeanne Schoenberger can give you the CFTC side of that because she lived through all of that. I’ll send her an e-mail, if you like, because I think she would be interested in being Skype interviewed by you. Her husband was actually in the Secretariat for two years: he was the Deputy in the Legal Division. He is now the Secretary General of the South Pacific Forum.
SO: Going back to the period after your return to Ottawa, you were a senior civil servant in CIDA and responsible for the Technical Cooperation Fund from the Canadian side. Where did your career take you from that point? Did you go into a more of a bilateral position or into multilateral affairs?
CM: When I got back, I was promoted quite rapidly and was the Director General of what was called Multilateral Technical Corporation. I had all of Canada’s contributions to the UN development side, to the Commonwealth and La Francophonie, as well as to the international agricultural research centres. From there, I went as Canadian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka – in the 1980s, from 1986 to 1989. The Sri Lankan civil war started in 1983.
SO: Was there a particular Commonwealth role and dimension to attempts at negotiations, as far as you could see from your diplomatic vantage point?
CM: There were tentative feelers, but they never actually did it. I was very keen, because by this time, by 1986, I had discovered my métier, and that was negotiations. And I was a Canadian delegate to the UN governing body – governing bodies of UN agencies – and had a strong reputation as a negotiator. I rather fancied myself, potentially, as an undercover negotiator in Sri Lanka and never had the opportunity. I knew I couldn’t do it as a High Commissioner unless the Canadian government took an interest and I had discussions with Ottawa as to whether or not the Canadians would be interested. I kept in touch with my Commonwealth colleagues to encourage the Commonwealth to take an interest. I met with Emeka a few times to suggest it, and he was actually quite interested. But the opportunity didn’t arise. I think Indrajit Coomaraswamy – who was working for him at the time – was very interested. He was keeping an eye on things, and I have no idea whether he was actually doing anything or not. As a Sri Lankan Tamil, I’m not sure what his position would have been, but he came from a family that was well known in the country. I did say to Emeka that if he ever wanted to ask me to help I would be willing. I was very interested in doing that.
SO: Did he ever take you up on that?
SO: I know that in the 1990s, he had discrete links with the LTTE, and was actually on the point of sending two Commonwealth Secretariat delegates – Stuart Mole and Moses Anafu. It broke down because arrangements between the rebels and the Red Cross unravelled.
CM: And then the Norwegians came in. The Norwegians are better at it than anybody else because they don’t need publicity.
SO: Did the Commonwealth need publicity?
CM: No, and I didn’t mean that as a crack at the Commonwealth. I meant it more positively in terms of Norwegian style: that they can work at something behind the scenes for years without anybody knowing about it, and bring things to fruition in a way that other institutions don’t seem to be able to for a variety of reasons. The Americans don’t, because they have to grandstand all the time, and for others – particularly international institutions – it’s just in the nature of things that this becomes known.
SO: You talk about Norway’s focus and dedication over a period of years. In the Secretariat, there were cycles of appointment and so the Secretariat as a diplomatic machine was going to have a turnover of staff.
CM: Quite possibly, because in Norway you’re either in government or out. And if you’re out, you’re a senior NGO. You might meet ‘Joe’ in his NGO Red Cross capacity, and the next time you meet him he’s the Minister or Secretary of State for Development Corporation. And he’s still doing the same negotiation, no matter where he is. It’s a very small and very highly intellectualised pool: a very concentrated mindset in terms of the national interest being the global interest, or should I say the global interest being the national interest. So, it’s a very homogeneous society in that sense, which you don’t get in other countries. That’s how they did the Oslo Accords – nobody knew they were doing it until it was done.
SO: No, they didn’t, and then suddenly there was an announcement.
CM: They’d been looking at it for a long, long time. So, if the Commonwealth Secretariat had turned its mind to it, they probably could, but because it’s a multinational organisation I don’t think they could have kept it secret.
SO: I wonder also – in that particularly timeframe – whether it was because the greater energy of the Secretary General was focused on South Africa, and there were only limited resources?
CM: No, but the other thing, too, is that in the South African sense, there was a global imperative to do something about it, and in the face of a government that had lost its legitimacy. In Sri Lanka, the role of the Sri Lankan government as a member of the Commonwealth was far more paramount. It was not possible for an organisation like the Secretariat to take on a negotiation unless the government invited them in. Whereas, in the case of apartheid, anybody could go and talk to the ANC and not think twice about whether or not they needed the permission of the South African government. That was not the case in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, the government had to be running the show, and if they found out that people were making feelers and whatever, all of a sudden Sri Lanka would have walked out of the Commonwealth: if there had been that kind of behind-the-scenes interference. So, there wasn’t the same avenue to deal with the problems as there was for South Africa.
SO: Given your particular diplomatic remit of bilateral relations between Canada and Sri Lanka, where were your particular concerns and energies as High Commissioner focused? Was it trade relations?
CM: Well, we had a major development programme, which is one of the reasons why I, as a development person, became High Commissioner. Every cycle there were usually a number of ambassadorial posts that were available to CIDA and so in Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, not Delhi – Foreign Affairs really liked to hang on to Delhi – [but] Kuala Lumpur, Costa Rica, places like that, you would often find an ambassador who came from the development side. So, we had a substantial development relationship with them. An interesting part of the relationship was the interest among many parties in the Canadian federal model as a possible solution for solving the conflict. [Another] big programme was immigration: all the Tamils were coming to Canada.
SO: Of course they were. You’ve now got the largest Tamil diaspora outside Sri Lanka.
CM: Yes, and we’re also one of only three internationally recognised countries of ‘resettlement under UNHCR’ – Canada, Australia and the US.
SO: How much do you think the presence of the Tamil diaspora in Canada has affected Canadian diplomacy?
CM: It fluctuates. It’s a big issue now for the Conservatives, who are looking at the ethnic minorities to help them stay in power, and the Tamils have had a strong lobby in Ottawa. When I arrived in Colombo, my predecessor had been very active – under instruction from Ottawa – in criticising government behaviour vis-à-vis the Tamil minority, to the point where the government-controlled local press was making serious attacks against Canada when I arrived. In Sri Lanka, the local press is appalling. Appalling! It’s vicious and it’s used as a tool by the government which, in itself, can be vicious. It was interesting when you think of the Commonwealth because, here I was, someone born in a Commonwealth country, brought up as a citizen of another Commonwealth country, [who] had worked for the Commonwealth Secretariat and was now a Commonwealth High Commissioner.
I arrived in Sri Lanka and before you present credentials, you call on the Foreign Minister. He was out of town, and I met the deputy who subsequently became Foreign Minister. I walked in and I said, “We have a problem.” Because we were under attack by the Sri Lanka press, it meant that that was coming from the government. They saw us as pro-Tamil and ‘pro-terrorist’ and that’s how they phrase it. If you’re in favour of human rights in the terms of how you treat terrorists, then you’re pro-terrorist and you’re anti-government. It was very simplistic. They’re lovely people, but they are the first to say that there is this strange, monstrous streak in some of them. It’s bizarre, the contrast. And I said, “We’ve got a problem, but we can solve it. We’re members of the same family.” I pulled the Commonwealth angle and said that Canada was a long-term friend. “We know there are misunderstandings, and my job is to come and help solve them.” And it was like watching a glacier melt.
SO: So, you pressed the right buttons?
CM: Absolutely. I was one of the most popular Canadian High Commissioners in the history of Canada-Sri Lanka relations. And it never prevented me from saying what I thought.
SO: Because families are allowed to disagree?
CM: Yes, and also we began to realise, too… We had a bit of a watershed during my time there when things opened up, when the Indians came up, [and] my immigration officers were able to get into Jaffna to verify some of the refugee claims. And they discovered how few of the horror stories that we were being told were actually true.
CM: Oh, yes. There were a lot of stories. There were a lot of bad things happening up there, but there were a hell of a lot of people who were using that as a vehicle to get out – to get to Canada. And we were being taken for suckers.
SO: How the asylum system could be manipulated…
CM: Exactly. The horror stories and the human rights abuses were real. The government was wrong in what they were doing, and they were wrong not to attack the underlying economic and social causes of the crisis. In my view, the causes of the crisis were legitimate, but also the Tigers deserved to be eliminated from the face of the earth – even though I’m a pacifist. The Indians made a horrible mistake when the government forces surrounded Velupillai Prabhakaran and the Indian intelligence service told them not to pull the trigger, because they wanted to keep them as a lever against the Sri Lankans. And that was the biggest mistake, because Prabhakaran’s people then turned around a couple of years later and killed Rajiv Gandhi with a suicide bomb. It really rebounded on Delhi. But, at the same time, the Sri Lankan government failed miserably in how it handled the problem.
SO: Were you in touch with your Indian counterpart in Colombo?
CM: What was his name…Mani Dixit. He eventually became Indian Foreign Minister. He was a brilliant, manipulative, and really, really great colleague. We used to tease him and say that he’d achieved the ultimate goal of an ambassador, and that is to run the country to which he was accredited! [Laughter]
SO: I’m just wondering if there was a particularly useful Commonwealth High Commissioners network?
CM: Oh, absolutely. We met all the time and our Deputies met all the time.
SO: In his interview with the British Diplomatic Oral History Project, Sir Leonard Allison – who was British High Commissioner in Zambia and later Kenya – talks about the value of Commonwealth High Commissioners as a way of gaining information and access, yet those networks are not widely recognised or known.
CM: When I came back to Ottawa in 1989, for my first four years I was doing the financial institutions and negotiating the capital replenishments of the banks. But then I became ADM – Assistant Deputy Minister – for our Africa programmes, and I gravitated towards the African Commonwealth High Commissioners. I could go up and say, “I was a Commonwealth High Commissioner, too.” It was like being a member of a club. We’re all jolly; we could talk to each other.
SO: I’m intrigued by your description of your time in Sri Lanka, because it underlines the complexity of the Commonwealth as a diplomatic actor. As an association, it has so many different facets: the bilateral side, multilateral side, the institutional side of Ministers, the personal network side…
CM: Well, it can be a clearing house too. I was trying to think of some examples of [it being a] clearing house, and one of the things… This was before I went to Sri Lanka and after my time in London, when I was doing UN negotiations as a delegate. I remember an incident at the Governing Council of the UN Development Programme, which, in those days, used to meet for three or four weeks a year. So, you’d be in the trenches with all these people for three weeks solid. The UNDP had a very effective budget committee that would review all the budgets of the UN development programmes. Every decision would have a resolution adopted and passed on to the Council proper, and you would do all your work through the three weeks, and the last couple of days you’d sign off on the resolutions. With all the different committees, it was really hard for smaller delegations to be present at the different committees and the different meetings. So, sometimes you missed things. I remember very vividly the Latin Americans had a very ambivalent relationship with the UN. In those days, we talked about ‘graduation’ countries – now you call them ‘emerging nations’. But it was the process under which recipients stopped being recipients: the Latin Americans really shouldn’t have been recipients, and in fact they weren’t. But they wanted to stay connected to the UN development institutions because, for them, it was a window on the world, and it was access to networks of expertise. So, a lot of the UN Development Programme officers in Latin America were actually fully funded by their host country.
A lot of the UN offices are partially – if not fully – funded by these countries, but in the case of the Latin Americans, the programmes themselves were almost fully funded by the host, the receiving country. But it was a way that they could go the UN in New York and get access to a worldwide network of advice. But they weren’t really recipient countries, so they always had a very ambivalent attitude about where they wanted to be, which side of the fence they were on.
In contrast, the Commonwealth Caribbean was still very much a recipient of the fully funded programmes and all of that. But the Caribbeans and the Latins are part of the same negotiating area. The Latins came breezing into this last couple of days as we were signing off on the resolutions, and I can’t even tell you what the issues were, but they all then said that they didn’t particularly like decision X. And we said, “Yes, but the discussion was last week. The decision has been made, in full committee. You weren’t there. Sorry. We’re signing off on it.” “No, no, no. We don’t like it. No, no, no. You can’t do that.” And, finally, I realised we were at a bit of an impasse and I proposed to the Chair that we re-open the discussion and they could come in, sit down, look at the issue and we will redo the discussion. If the decision changed with their presence, fine. And they said, “No, no. We just want to change the decision.” I said, “No, you can’t do that. But I am prepared to backtrack and open it up and we can re-discuss it.” “No, no, no. We just want you to change the decision.” And so the Chair asked for members to comment amongst themselves, and sitting next to one of the Latins was Trinidad and Tobago. And Trinidad and Tobago said, “No, it’s not right; absolutely not right.” Trinidad and Tobago would be really heavily influenced by the Latins – they’re so close to them – and yet they stood up and said, “This is the wrong thing to do.” And then the Indians said, “It’s the wrong thing to do,” and the Kenyans said [the same]. All the way around the room, the Commonwealth stood up for law and order and good governance. Yes! And I saw it happening, and I, being Commonwealth, and these being people l connected with… I found [that], in negotiations, I could go to the Commonwealth countries in Africa, the Commonwealth in the Caribbean, or the Commonwealth in the Pacific and talk to them in a way that was not possible with other non-Commonwealth negotiators.
SO: On the basis that, “This is not the way we do things”, or, “This is the way we do things”? As you suggest, those unspoken assumptions that operate of, “We know where you’re coming from”.
CM: And even on a general level of just hanging out and being able to talk to people. I had a clearer sense of connection to delegates from Commonwealth countries than to other parts of the world. But, on that one… Where are we now, 2013? That was 1985, maybe. Almost 30 years ago.
SO: But it is clearly a very powerful recollection.
CM: Oh, the memory is burned on my hard drive! And that was the Commonwealth at its best, you know. But, to my mind, there was then the disappointment to be back in Ottawa and not to have very many people in Ottawa who had shared those kind of experiences and who didn’t really ‘get’ the Commonwealth.
SO: So, once South Africa was resolved as a political issue, how far did Canada’s general political interest in the Commonwealth drop away, despite your country’s representation on CMAG?
CM: It bubbles up at the time of Heads of Government [meetings], and all of a sudden the Prime Minister has to get prepared. But it has never achieved the importance at the prime ministerial level that it had under Trudeau, who was the Prime Minister who most opened up Canada’s relationships with the Third World. He was a well-travelled intellectual; he was close friends with Nyerere and Kaunda. It’s too bad that young Joe Clark got booted out so fast, because he would have been of the same ilk. And when Clark was Foreign Minister, he had those connections. Joe Clark went to the 1979 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Lusaka, and Kaunda – as a good friend of Trudeau’s – said to him, “You don’t sound all that different from the other guy,” i.e. Trudeau. And you know what Joe Clark said to him? “I represent the same people.”
CM: [Laughter] Whereas Stephen Harper doesn’t represent the same people. Harper only represents his political base.
SO: Yes, as you said, those particular political constituencies at home… He is playing electoral politics in his foreign policy.
CM: All the time.
SO: After you were in Sri Lanka, where were you then posted?
CM: I came back to Ottawa again, and I spend four years as Director General in CIDA for the International Financial Institutions. That meant managing Canada’s participation in the regional development banks. This was not so much the World Bank, because the Department of Finance kept the lead on that, but there was a lot of input from CIDA – as a junior partner to the World Bank and IDA – and so that portion did come under my division. But I was concerned mainly with the African Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the Caribbean Development Bank. I negotiated Canada’s entry to the Global Environment Facility, and during the time I was Director General, every year there were big negotiations in the different banks, because every two or three years the banks negotiated replenishments to their ‘soft windows’ – their funds – and capital increases to their ‘harder windows’. And those were major negotiations. They could take place over a year – three days here in Stockholm, and then three months later it would be a week in Delhi, and so on.
SO: So, your professional responsibilities didn’t necessarily have a particular Commonwealth dimension, nor indeed did you need to stay in touch with the Secretariat in London?
CM: No. Although in 1989, as I was finishing up in Sri Lanka, I was a member of the expert group on gender and structural adjustment – ‘Engendering Adjustment for the 1990s’ – chaired by Mary Chinery-Hesse. Richard Jolly was a senior member. And I wasn’t necessarily an economic expert on structural adjustment, but I did know how governments worked.
SO: So, you were invited to join this expert group?
CM: Yes, I got a request from the Secretariat to be a member of this panel.
SO: This was in the last year of Sonny Ramphal’s tenure as Secretary General, before he was replaced by Emeka.
CM: That’s right. So, from Sri Lanka, I flew to London two or three times in my last year. I asked permission from my government if I could do that. They were more than happy.
SO: Did you make any personal observations on how the Secretariat was changing as an international organisation at that particular time, and its broader remit?
CM: At that point I had been following [developments at the Secretariat], because I had close friendships. I kept in close touch with Jeanne Schoenberger, with Mary Mackie, with Lorna McLaren and with others. And, on a more formal level, with people like Chief Emeka, although I was never on close personal terms with him.
SO: I just wondered if you ever formed a view on whether Sonny Ramphal’s particular style in dealing with the British government had become confrontational, and whether the change to Chief Emeka’s much more diplomatic and patient style was a necessary transition.
CM: Well, you see, what happens with Secretary Generals either in the UN or in the Commonwealth or another organisation is what in the UN is called, ‘More Secretary than General’. The senior members of the organisation – whether it was the US in the UN or the Brits in the Secretariat – go through cycles of wanting someone who will shut up and do what he is told, or someone who will speak up and move the issues forward. And Sonny was a very good example of why two terms is enough. He had three terms. In his first term, he was absolutely brilliant: he personified the concept of Commonwealth consensus. He could walk into a Ministerial meeting anywhere, anytime, size up the situation, listen – he listened well – to all the governments speak, and then sum up in a way that everybody could say, “Oh, yes, that’s good. Let’s carry on.” He had a fabulous ability to do that.
SO: That’s the training of a legal mind, but also it is a phenomenal political skill.
CM: Oh, yes. He was brilliant; absolutely brilliant. And he was at the height of his powers. The governments loved him and he was highly effective. In his second term, he was more entrenched. I’m not saying he was cruising or anything, but he was comfortable.
SO: And he also had the ‘success of Zimbabwe’ under his belt. He’d organised for Commonwealth election monitors in the Ugandan elections.
CM: Yes, and in fact, I should come back to Uganda – I’ve just remembered, I was the front man for the Commonwealth group on the Economic Report on Uganda. I’ll come back to that. But in [Ramphal’s] third term, he descended into cronyism. He had a very small group around him, and that was it. Nobody else was allowed in. It was a kitchen cabinet: a very small kitchen cabinet.
SO: That creates organisational problems.
CM: Hopefully I’m not the only person that’s told you that.
SO: No, you’re not. That created a scenario of in-crowds and out-crowds?
CM: And he was putting on weight and his personal life was messy and he lost the glitter. And he lost respect for that. His brilliant mind slowed down: it got clogged up with all the other extraneous stuff that was going on, and that’s too bad.
SO: I do know that relations between Marlborough House and King Charles Street became quite fraught.
CM: Well, I think it was because Sonny had become a different person. And, obviously, there were other political reasons, and in terms of political decisions he was taking that I am not aware of, but within the Secretariat, that was it. But my sense at the time was that Emeka wasn’t all that popular in the Secretariat as a replacement for him.
SO: I’ve been led to believe that he was popular with the Commonwealth High Commissioners?
CM: Yes, yes.
SO: And having good links with the High Commissioners would be significant, as they would be persuading their own governments…
CM: Oh, yeah, he worked the room. He was very good at laying the groundwork for his appointment. Yes, he was very good at that.
SO: Perhaps in a way the Australian candidate was not?
CM: Yes. And the Australians lost their bid for a seat on the Security Council soon after that, too, I think! [Laughter]
SO: Indeed. Perhaps there is a moral there: “Play the Commonwealth card with greater care.” Can we go back to your point about your work on Uganda?
CM: Yes…Because I’d spent three years in Nairobi with the Canadians – from 1971 to 1974 – before I jointed the Secretariat in 1975, there were a number of things I did for the Commonwealth in East Africa, because I still had contacts there. We were funding the Commonwealth East African Health Secretariat in Arusha. I remember going down there for a few meetings, and this was at the time when the East African Community was falling apart. In 1977, the East African Community – made up of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda – came to a screeching halt, and they decided to dismantle the Community. I came to Nairobi and Arusha – I couldn’t get into Uganda at the time, because of the violence – and I wrote a report on the dissolution of the East African Community. Basically, I said that it was founded in false premises, given the very different economic systems and economic rates of growth of the three different countries: Kenya, at the time, was such an economic motor; Tanzania was mired in Nyerere’s African socialism; and Uganda was totally ruined by Idi Amin, after having been a star of the group.
SO: It had been the ‘jewel of Africa’.
CM: And was thrown away by Idi Amin. And the final blow to the Community was the fact that the Presidency was supposed to be handed on from one President to another on rotation. Nyerere refused to hand over to Idi Amin. When, years later, Africans castigated Kofi Annan for proposing something called ‘humanitarian intervention’, and all the African states said, “How dare you!”, they forgot that Nyerere was the first, in 1979. In theory, Uganda invaded Tanzania – a “toe over the line”, or something. In went Tanzania, kicked Amin out, gutsy as hell, wonderful.
SO: Was that a big bust-up behind the scenes in the Commonwealth, that you recall?
CM: Oh, I think it was signs of relief all around.
SO: Given the murderous chaos of Amin’s Uganda?
CM: It was embarrassing. What was also embarrassing [was that] Idi Amin’s original coup took place whilst Milton Obote was at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Singapore. So, it was an embarrassment there, too. And I was in Nairobi at the time Uganda was kicking out the Asian Ugandans, and we were running planes out of Entebbe to bring Ugandan Asian refugees to Canada. Most of them came to the UK, but Canada was number two in terms of their destination. We flew the planes onto the tarmac in Entebbe and we bussed people from downtown Kampala to Entebbe.
SO: Was there a Commonwealth dimension to that, or was that Canada acting in a humanitarian role?
CM: No, that was Canada. That’s what we did. We had a big programme in East Africa. We had a big presence in Tanzania and Uganda, with the aid programmes there and lots of experts. We got a diplomatic protest from the Ugandans afterwards that we had flown the flag on the High Commissioner’s car without the High Commissioner being present, and that’s because we bussed people in from Kampala to Entebbe to get on planes and we escorted them with the flag flying. You’re not allowed the fly the flag unless the High Commissioner is in the car. So, we flew the flag. It even made Time magazine – we flew the flag and just went straight through all the road blocks. And we didn’t even stop at the airport. We drove straight onto the tarmac, and loaded them up. It was interesting times! Anyways, so…
SO: You were talking about the Uganda economic report.
CM: So, it was known that I had experience in that part of the world. The negotiations for an interim government in Uganda concluded with Lule being appointed as interim President. Lule had been a former Assistant Secretary General of the Commonwealth. So, he phoned up London and said, “Help.” And Sonny Ramphal got the Managing Director of the Fund to put together a team, but it was the Secretariat and the CFTC working jointly that put together a team to write a report called The Economic Rehabilitation of Uganda. Somebody from the Secretariat had to go on ahead of them, and it was me. I went to Nairobi – we didn’t even know if our bank accounts were active. There were no flights going into Kampala; the airlines had all shut down. I went up to Wilson Airport, the private airport in Nairobi. I had £15,000 sterling strapped around my waist. I hired a small plane – with a woman pilot, interestingly enough – and flew over the Rift Valley into Entebbe, went to downtown Kampala and into the International Hotel. No elevators were working. I was on the 13th floor. There was no water – we had a bucket there to do everything with. This was in 1979, I can’t remember what month, and I tried to get Lorna to come with me – my boss wouldn’t release her – because she was my assistant at the time. The team was made up of Tanzanians, Canadians, and others. It included a really brilliant and unusual Tanzanian woman, Rafika Hamisi, who had been a Minister or a Permanent Secretary in the Nyerere Government. It included Gerry Helleiner, a Canadian development economist.
So, I had to set everything up: the arrangements for the government, getting a place for them to meet. I found out that our bank account actually was functioning, so I hadn’t needed to fly in with all that money. I left before the report writers had finished, but they ended up flying out because there were bombs in the capital. Then they published the report in London. So, there was a very strong Commonwealth connection there, at the beginning.
SO: This is completely eclipsed in the remembered Commonwealth history of 1979. Most of the focus is on what was going on in Rhodesia in 1979, rather than on how the Commonwealth was trying to help Uganda sort itself out.
CM: Yes. The problem is that the Lule Government was very weak and didn’t last long. God knows how much, if any, of the report was ever implemented.
SO: So, you weren’t involved in any way in the Commonwealth election monitoring exercise in Uganda the following year?
CM: No, I wasn’t. That would have been handled through the political side, rather than the Commonwealth Fund. As someone who occupied the position I did in the CFTC, I wouldn’t necessarily have been the one to go out and do it. I went out to oversee writing the report because I had been involved. I was known to the Ugandans, and knew the area.
SO: Carolyn, how and why do you think the Commonwealth has survived?
CM: I knew you were going to ask that! I was trying to think about that. I keep wanting to say ‘inertia’!
SO: [Laughter] ‘Masterly inactivity’!
CM: Well, more than that, it’s more the idea that it’s virtually impossible to shut things down. You cannot shut down an association like that. Not while the Queen’s alive, anyway. The Queen is the Queen of the United Kingdom, and Head of the Commonwealth. She is also the Queen of some of the countries. She is Queen of several Commonwealth countries including Canada, and continues to hold the title of the Head of the Commonwealth. Not that that’s wrong, it just doesn’t tell the whole story.
SO: So, in addition to ‘inertia’, is it also that parts of the Commonwealth ‘family’ are alive and well? In the semi-official and informal Commonwealth, for instance, even if at the formal inter-governmental/heads level, the Commonwealth is stuttering along?
CM: Every group of leaders within the Commonwealth has tried to define what it is and what it does that is different and that justifies its existence. And, for some reason, that has been getting harder and harder to do.
SO: Do you think that is because international organisations have proliferated? There are so many summits now, and the international system has changed and fractured and multiplied in its connections.
CM: Well, international relations are handled in very different forums now. There are a lot of people who are disillusioned with the UN – my government included. My government is very anti-UN. I find myself part of groups defending the UN in the way we defended the Commonwealth forty years ago. So, I think there is a general disillusionment with multilateralism, but in the days of the internet and the days of the economic elites the power has shifted. Information flows and power relationships are entirely different nowadays.
SO: So, there has been a fundamental reconfiguration of international relations?
CM: Yes, the Commonwealth is not needed in the way it once was. I mean, I am sure there are a lot of things the Commonwealth does which are necessary…
SO: Well, Canada doesn’t need the Commonwealth in the way that it did – although small states do need it?
CM: But if the big ones are not committed, then the little ones get lost.
SO: Carolyn, thank you very much indeed for such a detailed and wide-ranging discussion.
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