Biography: Gaylard, Maxwell. 1946- . Born in Nambour, Queensland, Australia. Educated at the University of Queensland and the Australian National University. Served in the Australian Military Forces, 1968-70. Joined the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs. Posts in Mexico and Burma. Deputy High Commissioner of Australia to Singapore. High Commissioner of Australia to the Solomon Islands, 1985-88. Director of Political Affairs, Commonwealth Secretariat, 1988 -96. Joins the United Nations, serving as: Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq; Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan; Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator in Somalia; Director, Mine Action Service, Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Assistant Secretary-General, Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, United Nations, 2007- .
SO: Dr Sue Onslow (Interviewer)
MG: Mr Max Gaylard (Respondent)
Transcript Part One:
SO: This is Sue Onslow talking to Mr Max Gaylard at Senate House on Wednesday, 7th May 2014. Max, thank you very much indeed for coming in to the Institute of Commonwealth Studies to add further detail to your contribution to the Witness Seminar on the History of the Secretariat. I wonder if you could begin by saying, please, how did you come to join the Commonwealth Secretariat in July 1988?
MG: Sue, it’s very nice to see you again. Briefly, I was at that time a career officer in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia and the Australian High Commissioner in the Solomon Islands. I’d had a fairly tough three years, from 1985 to 1988. That is another story, which will have to wait for another time. When the three years was coming to an end, the Department asked if I would like to be considered for the position of Director of International Relations at the Commonwealth Secretariat, based in London. So, I said yes. I went through a process of recruitment. I remember I was flown to London from the Solomon Islands and interviewed. There was one other Australian colleague of mine who was also being interviewed, and a New Zealander. To cut a long story short, I got the job and was then seconded from the Australian government. I was seconded for two years, and that became another two years, and then another two years. At the end, in early 1996, it was almost eight years.
SO: You took over from another Australian, Hugh Craft.
MG: That’s right, yes. Hugh was a fellow colleague and friend in Foreign Affairs. Hugh had been there for quite some time, too – maybe six or seven years. Hugh was also a career officer. We were both career officers. So, the whole idea was that we would spend some time in the Secretariat, gain experience through that, and then go back to the Department, presumably to put that extra experience and skills into play. Hugh went back to DFAT; I didn’t, not least because I’d left it too long and I think had more or less been forgotten about.
SO: Max, you were the second of four Australians in that particular position.
SO: Did the Australian Government have a decided view on the holder of that position in the Secretariat, that an Australian should be Head of Political Affairs?
MG: There were other Australians in the Secretariat, but they certainly wanted an Australian in what was considered to be one of the key positions. Now, the key positions were obviously Secretary General, the Head of CFTC, the Deputy Secretary General, and maybe the two Directors of the Political and Economic parts of the Secretariat.
MG: Malcolm Fraser, whom I think you interviewed…?
MG: He actually ran for Secretary General for the 1990 term and onwards, against Chief Anyaoku. I guess if he had got that, then the Australians would not have placed so much emphasis on keeping the Director of Political Affairs, [or what was] formerly International Affairs. But, yes, it was the Australian judgement at the time that this was the position that they wanted.
SO: Did you have any handover with Hugh? Or did you arrive in post and find there was no degree of coordination with your predecessor on how to handle the particular responsibilities of the job or the key events that were confronting the Secretariat at the time?
MG: That’s easy to answer: there was no handover. I don’t think it was deliberate, it’s just that Hugh went off to resume his career and I came some weeks after he had left – or maybe even longer. So, no handover. But when I arrived, I think [that], before the week was out, I was on an aircraft to Toronto for a meeting of the Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers on Southern Africa, which was the precursor to a lot that happened later, in terms of institutional bodies.
SO: So, in that first meeting, then, Joe Clark was particularly influential, as Chairman of that Committee. I’ve interviewed him and he’s talked very eloquently about that.
MG: Yes, that’s right.
SO: So, for the Committee of Foreign Ministers on South Africa, there was close collaboration with your particular office for advice on financial sanctions and economic sanctions?
MG: Our office was still put as ‘International Affairs’ and became ‘Political Affairs’ later. We basically serviced the Committee. Chief Anyaoku, as the Deputy Secretary General, was the main Secretariat link, I would say. I mean, Sonny Ramphal was there, but he couldn’t do everything, obviously. There were also a lot of other things going on.
SO: In terms of how you viewed Sonny Ramphal as a Secretary General, this is very much the sunset – the last two years – of his Secretary Generalship…
SO: He’d been there for fifteen years. Could you add some reflections on how you found Ramphal’s working practices – his efficacy, his connections, his general diplomatic approach – in those two years?
MG: Well, as a person, I thought he was terrific. I didn’t work closely with him: not as closely as I think Hugh Craft might have. But, at the end of fifteen years in any organisation, a person such as the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, in this particular case, will build an ‘inner cabinet’ of those he knows very well and whom he can rely on implicitly. I was not part of that group, but was familiar enough with him to say that he was a wonderful representative of the Commonwealth at large. He was charismatic and was a wonderful speaker, as you probably know. Obviously, you’ve met him.
SO: Yes, several times.
MG: A very engaging character, really. Very Caribbean.
SO: Indeed, yes. What about the relationship between the Secretary General, the Secretariat and the British Government by 1988, 1989?
MG: Well, it wasn’t without its tensions and challenges – not least because of the whole question of South Africa. It was very much on the boil then. Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister. As you know, the position of the British government on South Africa was markedly different – in many respects – from virtually the rest of the Commonwealth. I think, at one stage, Prime Minister Thatcher actually said something to the effect of, “It’s me against everybody else.”
SO: “And I’m quite happy with that”! [Laughter]
MG: Yes, she was indeed! I recall the lead up to the Kuala Lumpur CHOGM in 1989. I’d been in my job for about a year by that stage, so this was the first really major event in which I was involved. The lead up was full of action: tension and anticipation as to what the British were going to do. Up to that point and even after, heads of government – the Presidents and the Prime Ministers – guarded the CHOGM in the sense that Foreign Ministers, for example, were not all that welcome. That attitude persisted for a few more CHOGMs. Foreign and other Ministers were not all that much present.
SO: “This is the heads’ show”?
MG: Exactly. For Kuala Lumpur, there was a decision made within the ranks – the Secretary General and the heads of government – that they would bring the Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers to Kuala Lumpur to concentrate solely on reaching some sort of common position on South Africa, which could then be reflected in the CHOGM communiqué.
SO: So, it was quite an innovation to do that?
MG: Yes, I think so. And in the end the Committee’s work came down to the construction of the few paragraphs on South Africa for the communiqué. I was the Secretary for the CHOGM and also the secretary for this Commonwealth Committee on Southern Africa. And I remember two or three very hard evenings, late in the night, negotiating the communiqué as it related to South Africa.
SO: Well, particularly because Mrs Thatcher felt that de Klerk’s recent concessions – freeing seven political prisoners, allowing anti-Apartheid demonstrations to take place, indicating that black South Africans would have political rights within five years – represented progress. Mrs Thatcher’s stance was very much that these indications of accelerated reform should not be penalised. She had also approached Dr Mahathir on the eve of the Kuala Lumpur CHOGM to request that South Africa should not dominate the proceedings. I know that she took a particularly public stance on this. John Major, her Foreign Secretary, writes about the negotiations in his memoirs. [He notes] that an agreement had been reached, and then he was hauled over the coals by his Prime Minister afterwards. Is that your recollection?
MG: It is, although obviously I wasn’t as close to it as he was. The UK was not officially a member of the Foreign Ministers Committee, so it was decided – with the blessings of key prime ministers and presidents, I assume – to issue a special invitation to the UK to send their Foreign Minister, the argument being – very sensibly – [that] there was only one country that was going to give any trouble, and that was the UK. Thus, John Major attended the Committee meetings, chaired by Joe Clark from Canada, as the UK Foreign Secretary.
SO: There was also the importance of British investments and trade.
MG: Yes, indeed.
SO: Britain was a big player as far as…
MG: It was, but to actually take the step of inviting the British to join that Committee for the period of the Kuala Lumpur CHOGM was a very interesting move. So, you had the nine Committee members and John Major in the room. The Australian, incidentally, was Gareth Evans, and I don’t know whether he talked to you at all about that discussion?
SO: We only had a relatively short interview, but he was absolutely emphatic regarding the input of the Commonwealth in drafting regulations on financial restrictions, and the importance of the book that was published – Apartheid and Financial Sanctions – which he co-authored. He said that this was the Commonwealth’s seminal contribution to later introduction of international sanctions against undemocratic regimes.
MG: I think he’s right. There is plenty of debate as to why South Africa unfolded at the particular time that it did, and there were many factors. But I think that the Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers – supported by the Commonwealth Secretary General and Secretariat – had a seminal role to play. The whole issue of financial sanctions and the power houses of the financial world starting to think twice about their roles in South Africa was critical. In the particular instance of the Kuala Lumpur CHOGM, it was the ‘nine-plus-one’ – the nine Foreign Ministers plus John Major.
SO: How clearly do you recall that discussion with John Major? Were you actually physically in the room?
MG: Yes. [Laughter]
SO: You’re starting to laugh!
MG: Well, there’s one story that I can’t tell yet. It won’t be lost; it won’t be, I promise. It was pretty lively. And it became very tense at times.
SO: Yes. Was Major sticking very firmly to his brief? He was very much a consensus politician.
MG: He was. I mean, they were all working for consensus. Nobody walked out. But there were some hot words.
SO: From whom, particularly?
MG: Well, Gareth Evans got very excited. I think Prime Minister Major – as he later was – became quite direct. But Joe Clark was the Chair, and a very gentlemanly Foreign Minister. He actually kept the whole thing under control, and the result was, basically, that everyone did agree on something. I think [that], when it was presented to the Heads, maybe Mrs Thatcher had another go to wind it back, but in the end the communiqué is there. They agreed. And I don’t think Mrs Thatcher said, “Well, I’m not signing off on the communiqué.”
SO: It certainly has entered folklore that she roasted her new Foreign Secretary for indicating some degree of an emollient, collaborative approach on South Africa in the Commonwealth…
MG: Yes, I do remember that.
SO: …which was not her particular presentation of policy.
MG: I do recall quite clearly the atmospherics of that meeting, down in the bowels of this hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
SO: Whom besides Gareth Evans was particularly forceful at this meeting? Because, obviously, there were African Foreign Ministers that were also part of that committee on South Africa.
MG: Well, I think what happened was [that], if anyone was taking sides, the Commonwealth Committee members were taking sides with Gareth Evans and Joe Clark. They had now met probably three or four times now, by the time Kuala Lumpur came around. I mentioned Toronto, and I think there was maybe one before that. So, there was a sequence of these meetings, and the nine members of the Committee knew each other quite well. They seemed to get on well.
SO: Yes, so they would have established a degree of solidarity, a degree of coherent strategy, and a determination to push through a firm line?
MG: They did. And there were some strong characters there, although they may not have jumped up and down. One of them later became President of Tanzania: Benjamin Mkapa – a very nice and modest person, as I recall.
SO: So, this was a Front Line State’s Foreign Minister taking a very vocal position on a Commonwealth Committee?
MG: I would say [that] they were insistent in the Committee. Gareth Evans was very vocal.
SO: I have got a summary here saying that Mrs Thatcher had claimed that apartheid was close to ending. Rather than increase sanctions, she argued that the Commonwealth should offer to reward South Africa. The other delegates unanimously disagreed with Thatcher, arguing that FW de Klerk could only make token changes and so further sanctions were necessary to bring about racial equality. A background against these discussions was that South Africa announced it had managed to reschedule most of her debt with Western banks. So, South Africa, as you say, was really up against it in terms of their financial liquidity…
SO: …and rescheduling really did give them some much needed breathing space at that critical point.
SO: So, there would be intense criticism, then, of international banks that were extending these lines of credit to South Africa.
SO: Do you recall Thatcher proposing that the IMF offer South Africa loans, on the condition that they accelerated the transition to racial equality?
MG: I don’t, but I think that if that’s what my colleagues were saying, then that would be perfectly logical. I guess there were two strands of thought, one being pushed by the United Kingdom. It was an argument about methodology, really. One part of the Commonwealth [was] saying, “Let’s keep the pressure on. It’s not time to take the foot off the accelerator pedal. We’ve got to put the foot down.” And then, I suppose, the UK Government of the time [was] saying, “Well, we have another opinion on the way to do it.” And, as it turns out, from what you read much later, it was all going to happen anyway.
SO: Yes, it was.
MG: And a lot of the impetus was coming from within South Africa itself.
SO: It was. When de Klerk took over from PW Botha as President, Pik Botha – the South African Foreign Minister – had a meeting with him the next day, in the August of 1989, saying, “Mr de Klerk, I think there are two things you need to do to improve South Africa’s international position. One is release Nelson Mandela, and the second is decommission our nuclear programme.” And apparently de Klerk replied, “I agree with you. I’ve already reached these conclusions myself.”
SO: So, yes, there was impetus for change.
MG: So, where the Commonwealth came in – significantly, again – was on that financial side, and was really pushing it. So, that was the contribution. That was the principal contribution. I think Gareth is right.
SO: Also, in terms of what came later, one of the discussions that almost seems to have been agreed [upon] casually at the Kuala Lumpur CHOGM was this question of election monitoring. You made reference to this in the Witness Seminar: of the preparation of a paper before the Kuala Lumpur meeting on election monitoring, and that Malaysia said that they would be the first [to be monitored], because theirs was the first Commonwealth Election that was scheduled.
MG: Yes, that must be how it must have happened. That’s right.
SO: Were you involved in the preparation of that paper in any way?
MG: I don’t think so. I can’t remember on that, to be honest. The broad picture on the whole issue of election monitoring – the whole spirit and the drive for it – really started with Rhodesia/Zimbabwe.
SO: So, towards the end of 1979 and beginning of 1980.
MG: Yes, that’s where the first Commonwealth election monitoring mission took place.
SO: I’ve gone through the archives at the Secretariat, carefully looking at this extraordinary, innovative approach of the Commonwealth on the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe elections.
MG: It was, and a lot of the lessons from that were refined and developed in the Secretariat by Sonny Ramphal, Chief Anyaoku and Jeremy Pope as Head of Legal Division. I don’t know if Jeremy left any writings. As you know, he has passed away.
SO: I don’t know if he left any writings or papers. I should check that.
MG: Jeremy was heavily involved and was very good. Jeremy had a terrific legal mind, in my view. Hugh would know a lot about that time. So, you had the Secretariat, on behalf of the Commonwealth, building up a head of steam.
SO: But that head of steam ran into the sand when they tried to repeat the exercise in the Uganda election monitoring exercise, which was altogether much more of a ‘wild thing’.
MG: When was that?
SO: That was in November/December 1980. It was the first election in Uganda for eighteen years, and the Commonwealth monitoring report concluded that, “This has been a turbulent and troubled election, characterised by confusion, delays, intense mistrust, and in the end, a sense of wonder that it happened at all.” The contested outcome was pretty messy, too. The Ugandan exercise seems to have burnt the fingers of the Secretariat on any idea of trying to replicate this.
SO: So, there was an appreciable gap after the Ugandan election monitoring mission and before the Malaysian exercise.
MG: Well, there was. And I guess the next spark was South Africa and Southwest Africa. We shouldn’t forget Namibia in all of this, either. And so I guess there was a build-up towards election observation and monitoring as the ’80s unfolded. The rather fragile birth and development of the Human Rights Unit was also part of the evolving picture within the Secretariat. Madhuri Bose could tell you more about that.
SO: I’d very much like that.
MG: The promotion of Human Rights in the Secretariat and in the Commonwealth is a history all on its own.
SO: Yes, that it only stayed a Unit rather than a Division in the Secretariat…
MG: Well, the Unit bobbled up and down in the ocean! It had its moments, but was never really allowed to prosper. A highlight was the Unit’s support to Secretary General Anyaoku for his key contribution to the 1993 Vienna World Summit on Human Rights.
SO: You make it sound like the orphan child, from a Dickensian novel.
MG: Very much, yes.
SO: If I could just go back to election monitoring before coming onto the very important aspect of South Africa and the associated importance of Southwest Africa… How clearly do you recall that election monitoring exercise in Malaysia in 1990?
MG: Not very well, because…
SO: Because you were based here in London?
MG: It’s not that. The principal officer in my Division dealing with the matter was Neville Linton, who worked with me, and I think that Chief Anyaoku was overseeing most of that work. I do remember it was rather fraught. It wasn’t without its problems.
SO: That’s how Neville described it when I interviewed him: “Fraught”. Yes, that description fits!
MG: And I think there was a huge sense of relief – probably on the part of the Malaysians, as well – that we all survived it with reputations more or less intact.
SO: I would say that the Malaysian leadership – particularly Dr Mahathir – hadn’t quite appreciated what would be involved.
MG: He wasn’t happy, I remember that. He wasn’t happy…Not necessarily with the result, but with the way things panned out. Yes, that’s an important point, because of what happened subsequently. The Malaysian election monitoring mission was followed by a dozen or so more in my time, and I’m told that more than one hundred missions have now been undertaken. I worked closely with Chief Anyaoku, so I can’t really comment on working closely with Sonny, because I didn’t. Chief, I remember, was always most insistent that in any context of election monitoring, we talked to the government – fine – but that we also be allowed and enabled to talk to the opposition. And, in quite a lot of cases, that had to be insisted upon quite firmly.
SO: According to Neville, Dr Mahathir was extremely taken aback and insistent that the Deputy Secretary General Anthony Siaguru and Neville did not meet representation from the opposition. It was nearly the crunch point and a compromise had to be agreed.
MG: And that’s where Chief came in.
SO: With an extended telephone conversation with Dr Mahathir.
MG: Well, he did that quite a lot. Chief visited occasionally when he had to, but always on the preliminary missions – whether it was Lesotho or Ghana or Guyana or wherever – Chief was at the end of the phone. So, if we ran into a wall…We talked to him every day, anyway, but if we ran into a wall, then Chief would intervene directly at the necessary levels. And just on this point of talking to the opposition: I remember going with Tony Siaguru to Ghana – it was our first mission to Ghana, when Jerry Rawlings was still very much the President and was inviting an election observation. Sitting in the Presidential office, Tony felt it was time to inform President Rawlings that we wanted to see the opposition. Rawlings was clearly taken aback, and he said something to the effect of, “What do you want to see them for?” But Siaguru insisted, and we eventually met with them.
SO: I also know that Chief was responsible for persuading the Election Commissioner in Guyana not to resign.
MG: That’s right. He was absolutely instrumental.
SO: You made reference to that very briefly in the Witness Seminar. Can you just elaborate?
MG: What happened was that I was in Guyana, on mission, talking to Rudy Collins, who was the Chief Election Commissioner. And he basically said, “Max, I’m fed up. You know I’m being harassed from all sides. Nobody really appreciates what I’m trying to do.” He said, “I’m going to resign.” So, I said, “Well, don’t do that before you have a chat with Chief Anyaoku.” So, he agreed. It must have been the following morning that I went to Rudy’s office [and] got through by phone to Chief, who was now Secretary General. I connected them, left the room and sat outside, because it was a one-on-one. And, as I think I said in the previous Witness Seminar, I heard these peals of laughter coming from Rudy Collins inside the room. And what Chief Anyaoku had said – because Rudy then told me – was, he said, “You know, Rudy, in my part of Africa we have the tsetse fly. If the tsetse fly lands on your private parts, if you hit it, it’s going to hurt.” And he said, “If you don’t hit it, it’s still going to hurt.” Basically, he was saying to Rudy, “You know? Tough luck, but stay in there!” And he did! [Laughter]
SO: [Laughter] As you said, a homely analogy that made the point! Election monitoring, then, was very much a continuity of approach between the Secretaries General. Sonny Ramphal had been insistent to push this in his last years in office, and this was very much something that Chief believed in, coming out of his own personal Retreat as the new SG.
MG: Sonny Ramphal believed in it and the Chief believed in it. And all of us did, too. I think we were all quite inspired by it – not just in the Political Affairs Division and the Office of the SG and DSG. I don’t know if I made this point previously, but of the Secretariat – which was maybe 250 people – you would select a team of observers ranging from six to, in the case of South Africa, one hundred. There was a back-up Secretariat team, probably most times headed by myself as Director of Political Affairs, but there were others, and we drew people from throughout the Secretariat. So, no matter what division you were in, there was always the prospect that your services would be required in Guyana or Seychelles or South Africa or wherever. There was an air of excitement and commitment throughout the Secretariat.
SO: Max, how clearly and how quickly had you developed a template for election monitoring? You have said that, obviously, Chief’s role was very important and his personal relationship with the contemporary head of government and Election Commissioner in the lead up to the poll…
MG: In the lead up, yes.
SO: …that there would obviously be an early visitation. Neville made the point that outcomes of elections are decided months before the actual polling date, and so processes of voter registration, voter education, organisation of pollings, the presence of the security forces [and] all of that stuff are all influential factors.
MG: I agree.
SO: But did you develop a Blue Book on how to run an election monitoring team?
MG: Yes, there was a book. I had a copy for a long time but I don’t know where it is now. Neville might know.
SO: I just wondered how quickly you thought, in the debriefing session after the early missions, that, “This worked well.” Obviously, there’s a need for adaptation to particular local circumstances, reconfigurations and idiosyncrasies, but did the Commonwealth develop a methodology for doing this?
MG: There were various players involved, obviously. In addition to us, there was the United Nations, the Carter Centre, the US Republican and Democratic Party bodies, the European Union and so on. From what I saw in this seven or eight year period that I was there, and in about twelve to fifteen elections, the Commonwealth was undoubtedly the most professional and indeed the best. I think we were respected, and not least because of relatively long experience and expertise dating back to 1979/80. We had a template but we also learned in every situation, as no two elections were ever the same. We concluded quite early on that it was all very well to go and observe an election, but that wasn’t enough. At the very least, you had to get in to the country concerned in the months before, as Neville has mentioned, to see what was happening on the ground, to get an idea of the independence of the Election Commissioner, to study the relevant laws and regulations, have a close look at the constitution of the country and its application, etc.
SO: The allocation of political coverage to individual parties in the media.
MG: All of these things. And there was a serious effort, I would say, as we went along, to engage the CFTC – to bring the CFTC on board in helping in a more substantive way, to help the country prepare. If the country involved was reluctant, it was hard. If they were actively wanting to go along with it, it was a lot easier. Seychelles was classic in a lot of ways. I think France-Albert René, the President at the time, who had been a one-party ruler for quite a while, saw that it was time to move on. I think he also realised he could almost certainly win an election, which he did. Seychelles has been evolving since, as have all of the others who have adopted democratic electoral practices.
Also, in the case of the Seychelles, I recall that the Government itself brought in constitutional experts, to get the constitution right. That happened with Kenya as well, with Secretariat assistance. For the process as a whole, the Harare Declaration of 1991 was seminal, in that the sixteen or so one-party states or military dictatorships began to conclude that multi-party democracy was the way forward.
SO: Coming on to Kenya, Chief told me that he had selected Professor Ben Nwabueze from Nigeria as a constitutional expert to assist the Kenyans in the rewriting or reconfiguration of their constitution.
MG: That’s right.
SO: So, did you, again, liaise closely with this designated expert?
MG: I didn’t, personally. The details of the arrangement were almost certainly handled by the CFTC and Legal Division, in close consultation with the Secretary General and his office. The upshot was that, eventually, President Moi and his government actually allowed the whole election process to take place, because I think the old constitution had Moi as President for life.
SO: It did, and Nwabueze helped them to revise their constitution, as Chief put it, to serve the needs of a multi–party state. But there was a crisis over that particular election result because there were the four political contenders in that election and an insidious attitude of, “We hold the elections, therefore we must win,” rather than accepting the will of the people.
MG: That’s right.
SO: You had made reference earlier: to the fact that you felt that the opposition – by their behaviour beforehand – contributed to President Moi’s victory.
MG: Well, President Moi had to get a certain percentage of the vote in a majority of provinces, and he did that. But, in the end, it added up to about thirty-five per cent.
SO: Yes, he got approximately 1.9 million votes. And the opposition parties contested that, actually, his share of the vote was much less.
MG: Well, it could easily have been. I’d have to go back and look at the detail. But if the three opposition leaders, or even two of them…
SO: If they collaborated? Yes, just looking at the figures, they would have beaten him.
MG: Exactly. And up until a couple of weeks before the election, that’s what they were going to do. But it all fell apart because each of the three thought that he could win it.
SO: The contenders were Ken Matiba, Mwai Kibaki and Oginga Odinga. Mwai Kibaki led a breakaway party – he’d won about 646,000 votes. Oginga Odinga won 910,000, and Ken Matiba was the closest with 1.4 million.
MG: That’s right. The [Election Monitors’] report was written as we went along – as the election was taking place – with all the tumult and fuss and bother. We’d be there at one or two in the morning, writing the draft of the report. A key part of the process was that all members of the Observer Group had to agree and sign off before leaving the country, within a few days of the declaration of the election.
SO: Was there any discussion among you, in writing the report for delivery, as to whether the Commonwealth would have any particular sanction or follow up on that report? Because, clearly, the team would have to leave relatively soon after its formal presentation and departure.
MG: Yes, and we got better as we went along in identifying what had to be done afterwards. I remember, in particular, the huge debate on the draft for the 1992 Kenyan election within the election observer group. It was a pretty impressive group: politicians and experts from around the Commonwealth, with the Secretariat as the back-up. Carl Dundas was the leader of the Secretariat team, himself as an expert from the Caribbean, and I was the Deputy of the Secretariat team. The Observer group, as a whole, was not happy with the way the election had been conducted, with infractions of the electoral code and actual violence in several parts of the country. After a good deal of debate and wrestling with formulae, the group avoided the use of “free and fair” to describe the election and came up instead with something like, “in the end, it reflected the will of the people.”
SO: Patsy Robertson commented to me that, describing the Malaysian election, she had said it was “free but not fair”. So, the 1992 Kenyan election was neither free nor fair, or was it “free-ish and fair-ish”?
MG: Kenya taught us all a lot of things, I would say.
SO: Going back to those other international election monitoring bodies, was there any coordination between the teams? Given the size of the election monitoring team that the Secretariat and the Commonwealth was able to field and its limited resources, which could not compare to the size of the budget available to the Carter Foundation, for instance… Obviously this was not competitive election monitoring, so was there a degree of pooling information or pooling security arrangements?
MG: I don’t recall that we collaborated on any structured basis, except perhaps with the UN in South Africa. Elections could of course be chaotic: not just in Kenya, they’re all chaotic to some degree or another. Except maybe in Seychelles, where the total voter population was about 22,000. Basically, we dealt with the other groups including, for example, the Carter Centre, but generally we protected our independence and neutrality. An industry was developing, you see. So, there were lots of people wandering around.
SO: Idealists, as you say, who could be poorly briefed, poorly informed, or had limited experience?
MG: I think the Carter Centre got into strife in the Kenya election. And the UN used to bob up every now and again. They were generally not too impressive.
SO: In terms of clear methodology and experienced, well–travelled monitors in tune with culturally sensitive issues, I can see that the Commonwealth really would be a leader of the field.
MG: The Commonwealth were the leaders, without a doubt. I’m not saying they didn’t make mistakes, because there were mistakes and some very awkward situations from time to time. But they were the best, you know. The people who were brought onto the teams were impressive. There was a booklet we had on the methodology of how we did these election monitoring missions.
SO: I just wondered how early on in the election monitoring process that it was deemed necessary or valuable to have a clear, point–by–point booklet on ‘How to Monitor an Election’.
MG: Let me deal very briefly with the methodology. The trigger for an election observer mission to be assembled and dispatched to an election in a member country was a formal approach from the government of the country in question. This was usually preceded by preliminary consultations, with the first approach instructed by the country concerned. At the same time, there were occasions where the Secretary General himself would initiate discreet discussions.
SO: That’s interesting, because I asked Chief about this and he said, “Oh, well, you had to respond to the invitation from the state.”
MG: Formally, yes. The Chief is possibly just being modest, but I’m sure he was proactive in some cases. Certainly, there had to be a formal approach. As soon as that happened, the Secretary General would have a small team on the road within a day or two, as the first mission. They would generally meet with the President or his delegate, meet with the opposition, and make contact with national electoral authorities. While that was happening, the SG and his Secretariat staff, particularly the Political Affairs Division, would be assessing the particular outlines and needs of the country in question: the constitution, the electoral laws, the parliament, opposition and alternative voices. The whole gamut. If it was the country’s first, multi-party democratic election ever or [first] after a long time – and lots of them were, [such as] Lesotho, Seychelles, Zambia, Ghana – then so much extra care and diplomacy were required all round, with nervous governments at the one extreme to nascent opposition political voices on the other.
SO: In terms of finances, you mentioned getting CFTC involved, but this was an expensive series of exercises for the Commonwealth.
MG: I seem to recall that funds were raised from governments. The Chief raised money for each observer group, and member states contributed voluntarily. The CFTC came in to the picture if there was technical advice involved, such as assisting with the constitution, electoral laws and so on. That was relatively easy, as they fitted into the budget.
SO: So, that would have meant a regular circulation of the Commonwealth, soliciting for additional and extraordinary funds to do this?
MG: That’s right. I mean, the cost was basically travel and subsistence. Nobody got paid specifically for the task, if you see what I mean.
SO: But even so, Max, if you were doing election monitoring mission after election monitoring mission, the sums mount up. And at a time when – let’s face it – the international aid budget was diminishing because of the end of the Cold War…
MG: That’s right, but somehow or other, the money was always found.
SO: That’s interesting.
MG: I think we just saw a very generous response from the member states.
SO: You mentioned mistakes.
MG: Mistakes in election monitoring? I can’t remember any serious mistakes, but there might have been situations where we could have done it better. In the case of Kenya, perhaps the system was a bit too quick in getting involved. But I don’t think anyone said, “Hang on. Let’s not go there yet.” It was more a case of, “Let’s get in there, see what is happening, and do what we can to fix things as we go along.”
SO: I wanted to ask, Max, about the lead up to South Africa because of your involvement from the Harare meeting of 1991, when Chief decided to go down to South Africa immediately after that meeting. And then there is accelerated Commonwealth Secretariat assistance between November of 1991 and the April of 1994.
MG: Right. In the lead up period, this was the time that we set up our small, informal South African office. We put Moses Anafu there for a time, to operate from within South Africa.
SO: Where was he based?
MG: We rented a little house in Johannesburg that belonged to an Anglican Bishop, and we set up an office there. We then proceeded to get to know the system and the political leaders.
SO: So, it was just Moses as ‘your man in Johannesburg’?
MG: Moses with Colleen Lowe Morna, who was a young journalist by training; a Zimbabwean. I was down there regularly. And, in fact, we used it as a base in a way, because Lesotho was having all sorts of challenges during this period – either with the return of the King, or attempted coups, or multi-party elections, or a revolt in the army. So, we spent a lot of time in Lesotho.
SO: Did you accompany Chief on that first visit that he made to South Africa, after the Harare CHOGM?
MG: I certainly accompanied Chief several times, but I don’t think I was on that first mission after Harare.
SO: What were your particular duties? What were Moses’ responsibilities, based in Johannesburg?
MG: Well, a priority was to get to know the system and the various actors, and for them to become familiar to us. So, we would liaise with the South African government of de Klerk – mainly the Foreign Ministry. And then, more importantly, the political parties: the ANC, of course, plus the Inkatha Freedom Party, the Pan-Africanist Congress and others. So, we entered a process of getting to know them to the best of our ability. At a technical level, we were seeking to identify – in consultation with the South Africans – the areas where they were going to need help with the coming elections, which were conducted over several days and were not uncomplicated. Probably one of the Commonwealth’s major practical contributions was a team of election experts – about ten of them – from around the Commonwealth. This election support was put in place some weeks – or maybe even longer – before the election. There were crises and difficulties coming from every direction. Inkatha was still outside the loop; Buthelezi was not agreeing. In a very practical sense, it seemed that the South Africans may have underestimated the challenges, and these Commonwealth experts placed in each of the nine regional centres were able to help ease the way.
SO: So, just to backtrack, the period between early ’92 and April ’94 was something of a rollercoaster ride for the negotiations between the various parties in CODESA I and CODESA II.
MG: That’s right.
SO: Obviously, that was a South African affair. The key negotiations were between Cyril Ramaphosa and Roelf Meyer, particularly in CODESA II. So, where was the Commonwealth in this process?
MG: Well, we were there at the World Trade Centre, where these took place. I remember going there with the Secretary General and Moses Anafu and sitting though many of the sessions. The whole business was, in essence, an internal affair among the South Africans, but I think that the presence of the Commonwealth Secretary General did help – not least as a UN Security Council Resolution did evolve as a result of interventions by Chief Anyaoku. Did he mention that to you?
SO: Yes, he mentioned that – because of the violence in what is now KwaZulu-Natal.
MG: That’s right. And there was the whole issue of hidden force within the security services – what were they called? The ‘Third Force’. They were doing train massacres and provoking all sorts of trouble in the mining hostels. Mandela was telling de Klerk [that], “It’s your people who are doing it. You’ve got to get them under control.”
MG: And de Klerk was denying it, saying, “It’s not us.” He later admitted in his book, The Last Trek, that it was so.
SO: In his memoirs, he admitted that there was a rogue element within the security forces, and the extent to which he was not in control.
SO: I have interviewed Dave Steward, who helped de Klerk write his memoirs. It seems that the South African government was a dysfunctional state by this point.
MG: Yes, I think so. There were pretty terrible things happening, and Mandela was threatening to suspend the negotiations. So, I think at those times, Chief Anyaoku was always not too far away, making himself available as the voice of the Commonwealth, on behalf of Commonwealth leaders. At that time, the Secretary General – whether it was Ramphal or the Chief – spoke on behalf of Commonwealth leaders, and that was accepted.
SO: So, it was the degree to which they were the spokesperson of the Commonwealth, rather than individual Commonwealth countries having bilateral relations with South Africa.
SO: Douglas Hurd, the British Foreign Secretary at the time, was interesting about that. He said, “I didn’t need the Commonwealth Secretary General to pick up the phone to talk to Pik Botha.”
MG: No, that’s correct, and nor did Bob Hawke. But I think what I’m saying is [that], whenever Chief spoke – and Ramphal before him – they considered that they were speaking on behalf of a Commonwealth position, on the basis of policy that had been determined at CHOGMs and in other Commonwealth fora.
SO: Max, how much were you personally involved in trying to deal with the violence and the conflict mediation down in KwaZulu-Natal, between local factions of the ANC and local factions of Inkatha? Because that’s where the violence was particularly acute.
MG: That’s right. Well, I was involved, but the person who was probably most involved was Moses Anafu. I recall that Moses and I – under instructions from Chief – once went to visit Chief Buthelezi of Inkatha at his home in Ulundi, in Natal. I addressed the Parliament, as I recall, and I was a little nervous because Gareth Evans had been there a week or two before and had been booed and reportedly spat at. He apparently said he was never going back! Anyway, we were treated quite well. They didn’t spit at us! But that was part of the Commonwealth seeking to come in from a different angle. We went there on the authority of the Secretary General to talk to Buthelezi. It was all part of a grand effort to bring him into the electoral process, which he eventually did. To what extent the Commonwealth can claim any credit, I don’t know.
SO Going back to the question of what Moses Anafu was doing, I understand that Moses was having to build relationships with a particularly suspicious group of the ANC – which, after all, had been a banned organisation in South Africa before February of 1990.
MG: That’s right.
SO: So, there was a particular determination that the ANC was going to assert itself as the voice of the South African black community – rather than the UDF, rather than the PAC. So, there are all sorts of cultural suspicions and personality issues; the ‘ex–iles’ coming in, rather than the ‘in-xiles’.
MG: That’s right.
SO: It was a complicated political picture!
MG: Very, and including [divisions] within the Zulu nation. There were plenty of Zulus in the ANC at that time, and then Inkatha was fundamentally Zulu. This reminds me of a local reconciliation effort in which Moses was involved, between ANC Zulus and Inkatha Zulus. The stage for this particular event was a football field. At one end of the field was a bunch of ANC Zulu warriors, and at the other end a matching crowd of Inkatha Zulu, with Moses…
SO: In the middle with his whistle!
MG: …in the middle. I don’t think Moses was the conductor, but he was certainly there in the middle, at the half-way line.
SO: As the referee?
MG: At a signal, the two groups came rushing towards the middle, brandishing spears and other weapons. When they reached the middle, they stopped two metres from each other, laid down the weapons and embraced. And that sealed the reconciliation.
SO: Moses was just standing there, in between them?
SO: I was going to say, what a remarkably brave man. Truly.
MG: Well, there was nowhere else for him to go, anyway. [Laughter]
SO: Lorna McLaren told me that he was known as ‘Mr Africa’ in the Secretariat.
MG: I’m sure that is true.
SO: Do you think the fact that he is Ghanaian enhanced his credibility and his access?
MG: It helped a lot, undoubtedly.
SO: I was just thinking – and Max, as an Australian perhaps you might reflect on this – whether there was a degree of inverted racism? Was it a case of the particular effectiveness of Chief, as an African, as a Nigerian, speaking to other African heads? Did Moses have credibility and an entrée because of previous historic, cultural sensitivities, that he was able to communicate in a way that someone from another part of the wider, culturally-British world would not have been able to do?
MG: I agree [with that], and Ghanaians in particular, because of…
SO: Kwame Nkrumah?
MG: Nkrumah, in particular. So, Moses was certainly welcomed as a Ghanaian, but also as a very decent human being, and quite a smart one at that!
SO: Dr Anafu, yes, indeed. His two PhDs – one from Cambridge and one from Bologna.
MG: He’s quite a character. He was there at the Secretariat for twenty years, if not more.
SO: Yes, and he truly made a difference on the Secretariat’s conflict mediation in Africa in the 1990s. You made a reference to him being one of the hundred most influential Africans.
SO: Who compiled this list?
MG: I can’t remember. It used to come out in a magazine in South Africa.
SO: You don’t know whether the Commonwealth – and particularly whether Moses Anafu – was instrumental in persuading Buthelezi to finally take part in the April elections?
MG: I wouldn’t say instrumental, but the Commonwealth was certainly part of the overall effort.
SO: I know that there was a certain Kenyan professor...
MG: There was a Kenyan who seemed to pop out of nowhere.
SO: Was he one of Chief’s recruits?
MG: No, [but] we encountered him from time to time.
SO: But you have no idea who was sponsoring him, where he came from, or whose idea it was that he should encourage Buthelezi to take part, at the last minute?
MG: No. He came, and he disappeared. And we haven’t seen him since, as far as I know. Do you have the name?
SO: Professor Washington J Okumu. It’s in Allister Sparks’ book. He makes reference to this last minute intervention by Okumu, who was a Kenyan agricultural professor.
MG: It was in the last week. People were starting to tear their hair out.
SO: This was how Inkatha was put on the ballot paper, then – right at the bottom, because the ballot papers had all been printed.
MG: That’s right, yes. Maybe the Professor just appeared at the right time, I don’t really know. Where the Secretary General, Moses and others from the Secretariat merit some recognition was in staying close to the South Africans from 1991 right up to the election and after. And, in fact, at the very famous lunch that became afternoon tea at Mandela’s inauguration – it was scheduled for one, and it took place at five, because of the sheer numbers – Moses and I accompanied Chief Anyaoku, representing the Commonwealth as an institution.
SO: So, did Moses have a particularly good relationship with Nelson Mandela?
MG: Yes, with Mandela and members of his family, I think. Moses spent a lot of time getting to know people. I was once in a hotel in Harare, some time in the early 1990s, when he rang me in my room one night and said, “Maxie, do you want to come and have a drink with some friends of mine?” I agreed and joined Moses to go to another room. Moses knocked on the door, and was let in and I followed. There were four or five South Africans there, and one of them said to Moses, “Who is this?” Moses replied, “Oh, this is Max,” at which the person looked to his colleagues and turned back to Moses, saying, “Do you think we can trust this white man?” It was none other than Thabo Mbeki, along with the late Steve Tshwete and a couple of other well-known figures from the ANC. They were, of course, very welcoming and hospitable!
SO: Please, Max, if I could ask you about any Commonwealth contribution to the reconfiguration of security services in South Africa. Were you involved in that?
SO: On police training?
MG: Did we do police training?
SO: Chief had mentioned that there was a Commonwealth contribution to the training, specifically on how to switch from emphasising riot control to civilian policing.
MG: Yes, there was something, but I wasn’t heavily involved. There was a range of contributions, but it has to be put in perspective. I was interested to read Mandela’s book, where he makes one reference to the Commonwealth, and even then, it’s the British Commonwealth!
SO: There is so much emphasis in the published literature on the Commonwealth’s ‘grand strategy’ as being opposition to apartheid, yet it goes up to the release of Mandela and then there is this chasm. But surely what happened between 1990 and 1994 was equally critical…
MG: Exactly, yes.
SO: …in South Africa’s unlikely, relatively peaceful transition to black majority rule.
MG: And even the Commonwealth Observer Group itself, I would argue, was of some significance. For the South African Electoral Observer Mission, the challenge was such that the sixty observers – plus forty others, including support staff from the Secretariat – were virtually all put into the field for the election itself. From memory, we thus had some fifty two-person teams in action. The Chairman was the former Prime Minister Michael Manley, a wonderful person.
SO: From Jamaica?
MG: Yes. A very funny and entertaining man. I was with him most of the time. We were in South Africa quite a bit before the polls – maybe two weeks before – and we called upon all the parties to get to know them. On one occasion, we were visiting the PAC office in Johannesburg. They had just moved office, and I think [they] were struggling financially by that stage. Their support was waning. We were ushered into the office of the Party leader, who remained sitting behind his desk, with Michael Manley and myself sitting in front. [Manley] had brought his armed bodyguard along, a Jamaican female police officer called Rosie who remained just outside on guard. And, at one stage, the PAC leader got very excited and he pounded the desk, which promptly collapsed with a loud bang.
SO: So, she came barging in?
MG: Well, yes, because he pounded the desk. It didn’t completely collapse but went sort of halfway. Michael Manley was laughing fit to burst, and got down on the floor to see what was the matter with the desk. In fact, all three of us were crouching on the floor to examine the collapsed desk when Rosie burst into the room with her hand on a still-holstered pistol, ready for action! [Laughter]
SO: She didn’t shoot the PAC Leader?
MG: Well, no, but she might have shot us! [Laughter]
SO: Max, thank you very much indeed. I think we should end there for the time being.
[END OF AUDIOFILE PART ONE]
Transcript Part Two:
SO: This is Sue Onslow talking to Mr Max Gaylard for the second time, 6th August 2014. Max, thank you very much indeed for coming back to Senate House to talk further about your time at the Secretariat. I wonder, please, if you could reflect on your first Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kuala Lumpur. This, of course, was an event which Dr Mahathir used very much to Malaysia’s advantage. It was also the occasion of Malcolm Fraser’s unsuccessful bid to be Secretary General. What were your observations of your former Prime Minister’s bid to be Secretary General?
MG: Yes, well, thank you for the opportunity again to have a chat. As an Australian, as you can imagine, I took a pretty close interest – but a neutral one, for obvious reasons, because my direct boss was Chief Anyaoku. I was the Director of Political Affairs Division – later the International Affairs Division – answering to Chief as the Deputy Secretary General (Political). [Chief] was the other person running for the position and, of course, got it. So, I do recall my Australian Foreign Service colleagues consulting me from time to time, asking what I thought the chances might be for Mr Fraser. If anything, I simply commented then that they should not underrate the opposition! [Laughter]
SO: Well, indeed! How much do you think there was also an insidious undercurrent that Malcolm Fraser – who was from a ‘wider British world’ – was not going to be successful in his bid to be SG at an event hosted by Dr Mahathir, who had a reputation for being somewhat suspicious of ‘Europeans’?
MG: Clearly, on the day, Chief Anyaoku was the person that they wanted. I think part of it comes down to practicalities, and the Chief almost certainly networked a lot better than perhaps Malcolm Fraser did. It was not that Malcolm Fraser didn’t try. He travelled the Commonwealth with ambassadors and senior officials from Canberra in tow. So, he certainly did the legwork, but there might have been a feeling – according to what I recall – that this is the first ex-Prime Minister that’s seeking to become the Secretary General. Before that, they’d been ministers: senior officials of one type or the other. And, of course, Malcolm Fraser wasn’t just any Prime Minister. He had been prominent on the Eminent Persons Group for Southern Africa, together with General Obasanjo and others. So, it wasn’t that he was not known. He was known; he did have ‘form’ in the sense that he had served on the Eminent Persons Group. At the end of the day, it was decided by secret ballot, and one networked better than the other and for various reasons was more appealing. I think it might have been a surprise to the Australians on the day, at the conference venue in Kuala Lumpur. I was there – not in the room, just outside. Anyway, I remember an Australian friend of mine who was working with Malcolm Fraser’s team coming out of one of the early preparatory sessions where it had been decided that the ballot would be secret, saying, “We’ve got it, we’ve got it,” and I said, “Well, you’d better wait a bit.” [Laughter] And, of course, they didn’t have it, and what had almost certainly happened was that some Heads who had earlier promised their vote to Malcolm Fraser didn’t deliver on the day. The secret ballot was probably the deciding factor for the Chief, not Mr Fraser.
SO: I know that before the start of the heads’ meeting there was an expectation that the ballot – such as there was – was going to take place at the Retreat, and Dr Mahathir was very keen that it should be got out of the way as soon as possible in the proceedings.
MG: It was. It was a done deal before the Retreat.
SO: Were you aware that Mrs Thatcher approached Dr Mahathir on the eve of the Summit and said, “Please don’t let South Africa dominate the proceedings”? Dr Mahathir, too, didn’t want it to be a one issue summit.
MG: I wasn’t aware of that. But if that was her plea, then it failed, because in addition to the election of the new Secretary General, the issue that really dominated that CHOGM – and these were two week CHOGMs, remember – was South Africa. If it wasn’t going to be the most talked about item, there was no going back when the Heads allowed the Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers on South Africa, the CCFMSA, to attend the CHOGM to put together and discuss the South Africa segment of the Communiqué. I should emphasise that, at the CHOGMs then – not so much now, I think – it was the Presidents and Prime Ministers who attended. They guarded jealously ‘their’ CHOGM, and ministers were not generally welcome. So, the advent of the Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers – there were nine of them, I think, who came – that, in itself, was different.
SO: That was a departure?
MG: It was a departure. And they sat long nights and days and wrestled with the issue of South Africa. It was here, I think, where Mrs Thatcher at one stage said she was in…what was it? A “majority of one”, or a “minority of one”.
SO: [Laughter] “A minority of 1 to 45”, I believe was how she described it.
MG: [Laughter] Whatever it was.
SO: You referred to that in your first interview. Also, coming out of that particular heads of government meeting was the Langkawi Declaration on Climate Change.
SO: The other issue I wanted to ask you about was the High Level Review process. I understand that Malaysia was in the chair and that the group was tasked to review the capacity of the Commonwealth – in particular, also, the capacity of the Secretariat – to achieve current and future tasks. I wondered if you were involved in this in any way. Were you providing the Secretariat support for this officials committee?
MG: Well, I was, nominally, but I recall I had to leave that largely to others because I was wrapped up with the South Africa issue. I was [overseeing] the to-ing and fro-ing on the language and the wrestling with the communiqué, and all that sort of thing. To be honest, I don’t recall too much about the detailed consideration of the High Level Review. But together with the South Africa issue, there was a connecting thread from Kuala Lumpur to the following CHOGM in Harare two years later, where the basic theme was the promotion of democracy and good governance and which spawned the seminal 1991 Harare Declaration. A lot of work went into preparing for Harare and the making of the Declaration.
SO: As an individual personal observation, how effective do you believe Robert Armstrong was as a key British civil servant? He was Secretary to the Cabinet at that particular point…
MG: He was the chief civil servant, yes.
SO: Yes, he was, indeed. Was he an effective contributor to the Commonwealth process?
MG: My recollection is that he was very much involved, and was very available to the Secretary General – certainly to Ramphal, and I think he was still there when the Chief took up the reins at the end of 1990. Very involved. In fact, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office had a section of officers dealing with the Commonwealth as a concept and as an institution, and [these officers] took a very close interest in everything that we did.
SO: Did you find them helpful, supportive, available? Engaged?
MG: Very available, yes. We wandered across to their offices and they to ours quite frequently.
SO: So. you didn’t have a sense of animosity towards a ‘jumped-up’ institution or anything like that? That it genuinely was a collaborative, interested and engaged relationship?
MG: I thought so. And for the preparation of communiqués – not just [for] the CHOGMs but for any other ministerial meetings, but particularly the CHOGM communiqués – with all of us being in London, they had a bit of head start in a way, I guess, over other Commonwealth bureaucracies. But, in any case, they were very interested and very involved.
SO: This is interesting, because it contrasts sharply with how Don McKinnon describes his relationship with the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, and the relationship between Marlborough House and the FCO during his time after 2000.
MG: Was it combative?
SO: Well, he suggests that there was a particular series of meetings that he had convened but which Sir Michael Jay didn’t even – as he put it – “walk across St James’ Park” to attend.
MG: No, that wasn’t the case in my time. Not because of me! [Laughter] At least partly because of Sonny Ramphal and the Chief: they had ready access, as far as I could see.
SO: Max, please, if I could ask you about the Harare Declaration. You said that the work towards good governance, democracy and democratization was initiated at the Kuala Lumpur summit. The Commonwealth’s first election observer mission went to Malaysia, which was not altogether comfortable, shall we say? But by October of 1991, the Harare Declaration was pronounced – the second most important document for the Commonwealth, following on from the Singapore Declaration…
SO: I have a copy of it here. At the June 2013 witness seminar on the History of the Commonwealth Secretariat, you said that, “The preparation of the document itself had taken place over many months: lots of consultations with lots of debate, argument about content.” Please, could you elaborate on its emergence and the “lots of consultation, lots of debate, and lots of argument about content”?
MG: I guess the first point to make is that, by this time, the Chief had taken over as Secretary General. He was very careful that the drafting of the Declaration was seen to be prepared by the Secretariat on behalf of the members, and fully reflecting the range of views. So, he and his colleagues had to be very careful about not being seen to be paying too much attention to any particular member. And, of course, the UK, being based in London [Laughter] – and, we being based in London, along with them – had a bit of a head start. The FCO people contributed a lot of thinking and work on it. They were contributing, but I don’t recall that we ever came to blows or serious disagreements, because not only them [but] others through the High Commissions were also interested and active. So, it was, from my perspective, very much a consultative process as we went along. But the Secretariat, led by Chief as the Secretary-General, retained full control over the draft.
By the time we got to Harare – a couple of weeks before the actual event, I suppose, or a week or so – that’s where President Mugabe came into play as the host and the Chair of the meeting. So, the final drafting of the Communiqué obviously involved him and one or two of his most senior advisers. Of course, there was plenty of interest from elsewhere – the Indians and the Malaysians, in particular, in addition to the Australians, the British, the New Zealanders and Canadians. The Malaysians were particularly interested. They were playing a very proactive role in Commonwealth affairs at this stage. As I might have reflected before, when it came to the final document, which was being massaged by everyone, there was still a sticking point. The term ‘good governance’ was not acceptable to most, and so it eventually became ‘just and honest government’. And there was quite a debate about this.
SO: Yes, you said that the Malaysians and the Indians objected because they felt it was too nebulous.
MG: Yes, and that’s why the terminology became ‘just and honest government’. Not good governance, because it was thought that this might have been perceived to be verging on interference – perhaps an attack on sovereignty. At the end of the day, I think it might have been the Chief himself who came up with ‘just and honest government’.
SO: So, the Indians were objecting because they too felt that it wasn’t sufficiently concrete?
MG: I think so. You see, there was also particular concern about the extent to which an international institution should or should not be interfering in sovereign affairs. So, that issue was always there, particularly as the observer groups started to get underway. There was only one by that stage, but in the next five years we must have done fifteen or twenty. I can’t remember exactly how many.
SO: When I interviewed Dr Mahathir, he reflected that he felt that there were democratic processes in place if the opposition was allowed to vote. I wondered if the Malaysian leadership modified, in any way, a commitment to a Commonwealth-wide declaration on ‘good governance’?
MG: Well, not just Malaysia. I would say [that], amongst many of the Commonwealth countries, there was still not so much a stiff resistance, but doubts as to where the debate on human rights and democracy would lead. Some of them were concerned that things might evolve too quickly. There were at least sixteen military dictatorships or one-party states in the Commonwealth at that time, and both during and immediately after the 1991 Harare CHOGM many were beginning to grasp the nettle. Basically, there was a dawning realisation that they had to progress along the line, away from one-party states and away from life-long presidential constitutions and so on. I think what the Harare Declaration represents is the best result for everyone, as a collective. And they were able to use it as a guiding document and inspiration for the next however many years.
SO: That you recall, what was President Robert Mugabe’s attitude towards the emerging Harare Declaration and his degree of engagement with it? Obviously, he was host, so he had a particular standing by virtue of the platform of the Harare meeting.
MG: I recall that he was okay with it all. I don’t think Zimbabwe made too much fuss about things at the time, unless it was behind the scenes, but I don’t think so.
SO: I just wondered if you would have picked up, with your political antennae, any rumbles at, say, the Retreat at Elephant Hills, or anything like that.
MG: I didn’t. I think [that], on the Harare Commonwealth Declaration, President Mugabe was happy enough to go along with it at the time.
SO: Max, it’s often that declarations and events can seem very significant afterwards.
SO: At the time, there is not necessarily an appreciation that this was a seminal event…
MG: Yes, absolutely.
SO: …that this was not simply a declaration and an intention to proceed. The Declaration encapsulated genuine commitment to accelerated change.
MG: Yes, very much. [It was] helped considerably by what was evolving in South Africa. Because, by this stage, Nelson Mandela was walking free, and I think I told you how he turned up by accident?
SO: [Laughter] Yes, you did.
MG: Well, he didn’t turn up in Harare by accident, but he turned up at the Queen’s reception by accident. So, there was this ‘ex-terrorist’ – in the view of one or two of the member states – actually there. So, there was a new world coming, you see what I mean?
SO: Max, this is thinking slightly outside the box, but how much do you think that the Harare Declaration was also, to a degree, trying to forestall resistance within the National Party in South Africa? There had been an acceptance, an awareness, that there had to be negotiated change, but still, within the National Party in South Africa, there was a determination that they were going to manage this process. It was going to be their stamp on the negotiations, which were designed for power-sharing, not transfer to black majority rule.
SO: So, if there was a broader Commonwealth commitment…?
MG: I didn’t perceive any such connections. My experience of South Africa was that they accepted the practical Commonwealth help that we provided in the lead-up to the elections – or, to be more precise, the ANC and other parties accepted the involvement of the Secretary General. But the Harare Declaration was, in my view, not seminal for South Africa; rather, it was the other way around. What was happening in South Africa was seminal to Harare. The fall of the Berlin Wall in early November 1989 and the beginnings of the disintegration of the Soviet Union were also key factors.
SO: So, you have the parallel acceleration towards democracy and liberal democratic capitalism – supposedly – in Eastern Europe, and this is also the period in which the Soviet Union started to unravel.
MG: Yes, that was a big factor as well. South Africa and the fall of the Wall, the beginnings of the break-up of the Soviet Union, and quite a lot of these one-party states started to think, “Well, maybe we’d better get on with it and head for multi-party democracy.”
At least one Commonwealth state was quite prepared to head for a more democratic, representative system, but not a multi-party one: that was Uganda. I remember a very spirited exchange of views between President Museveni and Secretary General Anyaoku in a tent at the State House at Entebbe, where they debated the pros and cons of multi-party democracy. The Chief spoke very strongly for it; Museveni had his doubts. Democracy, yes, but not necessarily multi-party [democracy]. That was the gist of it, then.
SO: So, his argument was that it should be on a one-party list system, as he had established?
MG: I’m not sure that he was even saying that at the time. I think he was looking at a more grassroots style. In fact, what they did in Uganda around that time was to invite every single adult Ugandan to contribute towards the making of a constitution. On our visit, we were shown a storeroom in Kampala that had 24,000 submissions [Laughter] on the constitution. [The] process [was] overseen by an Australian Commonwealth expert on constitutions who had come from the South Pacific and had worked in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and other places. Anyway, so, the main thrust was about multi-party democracy but there were arguments within that. Now, Zambia, Kenya, Ghana, Lesotho, the Seychelles, Guyana, and maybe Bangladesh, among others, were all starting to accept that it was time for one-party states and/or dictatorships of some form or other to evolve towards representative democracy.
SO: But the question was the speed of that evolution.
MG: Well, some of them moved quite quickly. As I might have you told in the previous interview, some heads of state at Harare actually came and had a discussion with the Secretary General and requested early help, for example, on moving to a constitution that could support a multi-party system, like Kenya. So, a constitutional expert was in Kenya within months of this. [Concerning] the Seychelles, it was something similar with France-Albert René. I’m pretty sure he spoke to the Chief at Harare – if not there, shortly after. So, the interesting thing was [that] the leaders were putting their hands up and saying, “Well, let’s go.” Including Kaunda – I told you about Kaunda, because he was a celebrated case. He was the first one to lose. [Laughter]
SO: Indeed, and the Chief was appalled by the treatment that he received from the victor [Frederick Chiluba].
MG: Well, and then Chief intervened and fixed things – not just for Kaunda, but [he], in fact, set a template for the future: that they [i.e. former leaders] should be looked after by the state and certainly not be put up against a wall.
SO: Max, in addition to the Harare Declaration setting out the core principles and values of the Commonwealth, the document also detailed membership criteria. I am aware that the 1990s was an era when the Commonwealth continued to expand – beyond, it could be said, its natural constituency of former British colonies. It now included Mozambique and also Cameroon, which had acquired observation status in 1989 and which was finally accepted by 1995. Do you recall how much discussion there was about whether there should be very tight criteria on membership applications?
MG: There was such a discussion, and, broadly, the existing membership sought to apply these criteria up until I left the Secretariat in early 1996. Even in the cases of Cameroon and Mozambique, they were still judged against the principles of good governance, the observation of human rights, etc., and they weren’t perfect but they were coming through.
In fact, one of the levers that opened the Commonwealth up to expanding membership was the case of Mozambique, and that occurred in the South Africa context. The Commonwealth had formed this Committee – the Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers on Southern Africa – and it was basically the Front Line States to South Africa plus Canada and Australia. So, the Front Line States included Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Tanzania and one of the West African countries, Nigeria, whereupon Mozambique basically said, “Look, we’re a Front Line State and we’re affected as much as anyone.” So, an agreement was reached sometime in the mid-1980s that Mozambique would be part of that Commonwealth Committee.
SO: Well, they had already become a part of the negotiating process for the transition of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, so there was an historical precedent.
MG: Right, okay.
SO: Arnold Smith had reached out to Mozambique in 1974 because of the realisation that once the liberation government instituted sanctions against the rebellious UDI regime – and also given its geographical position – Mozambique was going to need particular Commonwealth assistance. The Commonwealth set up a particular fund for technical assistance to Mozambique after November 1975.
MG: Right, well, that probably led to thinking within the Mozambique body politic that it might be advantageous for Mozambique to join the Commonwealth. So, from 1989, I think, Mozambique started its campaign to be a member of the Commonwealth. I’m pretty sure they were in Kuala Lumpur in 1989 with a delegation, and that the matter of their membership was on the agenda. It certainly was in 1991, 1993 and 1995.
SO: They were formally accepted in November 1995.
MG: That’s right. And in 1989, 1991 and 1993, I think – probably all of those times – I was the one to come out and give them the bad news: namely, “Not this time.” [Laughter] But in 1995 it was different. The item for discussion came up fairly early on the agenda, I think, and the CHOGMs were shortened by this stage anyway. I think it was going to be a week, maximum. So, the item came [up] for discussion, the speakers led off – I think Dr Mahathir probably spoke early, as did John Major, I seem to recall. Anyway, two or three heads of state spoke early and praised Mozambique, because the Civil War was over and there was an on-going process of reconciliation between RENAMO and FRELIMO. So, according to the Harare Declaration template, they weren’t doing badly, but they weren’t strictly eligible for Commonwealth membership, so they’d have to wait a bit longer. Again. And then Nelson Mandela took the floor. He was there as President of the new, recently-rejoined South Africa. He agreed with the previous speakers – everything they’d said about Mozambique making progress, [and also that it was] not strictly eligible for Commonwealth membership. But he, the President of South Africa, thought the right thing to do was to accept Mozambique immediately into the Commonwealth fold, and that was it! [Laughter]
SO: Yes! He was like Churchill after the Second World War. He was a one-man pressure group.
MG: Well, that’s what it seemed like to me. The Chief might have told me to go and inform the Mozambicans, and so I slipped out of the room and there they were, waiting outside, slumped down and looking very unhappy. I walked up and…I forget who they were now, I should know, but I walked up and said, “Congratulations, you’re a member of the Commonwealth.” And they could not believe it! [Laughter]
SO: They looked rather surprised? [Laughter]
MG: Yes, so, that was Mozambique. I don’t remember the debate about Cameroon. I must have been out of the room, I think. And then, apparently much later, Rwanda [joined], but it was Mozambique that was the precedent for countries which had not really been part of the old Empire.
SO: Rwanda had, of course, experienced the genocide in 1994. Do you recall any discussion after that? This is the year after those appalling events.
MG: I don’t, but it would have been quite natural for President Museveni to talk on behalf of Rwanda. But I don’t recall any discussions of any import. Rwanda was much later. [Rwanda joined the Commonwealth in March 2005]
SO: Was there any discussion about whether or not Hong Kong should have observer status in the Commonwealth before the return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997? I know that Hong Kong has particular status with Commonwealth professional groups, and particularly with the Commonwealth lawyers, who remain actively engaged and have their Commonwealth designation.
MG: I don’t think so. I don’t recall one, not from my part.
SO: Were you at all involved in the Commonwealth deliberations over Fiji re-joining the Commonwealth, which it did in 1997?
MG: No, that all came…Fiji was okay in my time. There had been a coup but it had come back.
SO: It had returned to democracy in 1992, and then there was a process of re-engagement with the Commonwealth.
MG: That’s right. I think Fiji was at Auckland [in 1995], as a full-fledged member – was it not?
SO: 1st October 1997.
MG: [When] it came back?
SO: Yes. Fiji had been expelled in October 1987, and I have a note that says, “Fiji re-joins the Commonwealth following the adoption of a new constitution more in line with Commonwealth principles.”
MG: Okay, in 1995 they must have been out. But there were moves along the way, I remember. I must have left [at the] end of 1995, early 1996, and some time later that year I got an approach that was never followed up, from opposition elements in Fiji, to intervene in some sort of mediation role. But nothing ever happened about that.
SO: In terms of Chief’s ‘good offices’ and his below-the radar attempts to contribute to the mediation of political tensions and dissension, you made mention in the first interview about the ongoing political rivalry and intense friction in Bangladesh. Were you involved in any way in these ‘good offices’?
MG: Yes, well, I was broadly involved. I certainly recall being with the Chief when one of the two female leaders and rivals – Begum Khaleda Zia, I think – called on him in Marlborough House. So, he was in contact. He spent a lot of time on it. I don’t know if it’s reflected in what he’s written.
SO: There’s an entire detailed chapter in his memoir, The Inside Story of the Modern Commonwealth.
MG: He tried very hard. And with both of them, trying to get the two of them to talk to each other – not always successfully, I’m afraid. Around 1994, he asked Sir Zelman Cowen, one of our perhaps lesser known Australian Governors General but a very distinguished one. He went in there at least once as a Special Envoy, and Moses Anafu was with him.
SO: I’ll certainly ask Moses about that particular diplomatic mission.
MG: Yes, but I don’t think we were too successful. The animosity between the two of them runs pretty deep, for a start.
SO: Indeed. What about the Chief’s mediation attempts in the Sri Lankan Civil War in the 1990s?
MG: Yes, I don’t recall that he was heavily involved. I think that was the time of the Norwegians, in a way. The Norwegians were taking the lead, and the Chief may well have been involved, but not… I don’t recall ever being closely involved in the Sri Lanka negotiations or mediations.
SO: In terms of ‘good offices’, was there ever any below-the-radar approach to either Pakistan or India, to see if there was any possibility to support tentative, improving steps on the Kashmir issue, and the role that the Secretary General might play in this?
MG: Not to my knowledge. And I doubt it, because particularly [for] the Indians, for them, Kashmir was – and still is – “Hands-off, mind your own business.”
SO: Generally, in terms of the Chief’s attitude to ‘good offices’, did he have a particular template or particular framework of behaviour? Or was this very much a question of exploring the possibility of openings, as an ad hoc response to his political antennae picking up tensions in the Commonwealth?
MG: Very much using political antennae [and] his knowledge of the Commonwealth. I don’t think there was any particular template. In fact, if you followed a template in one place, it probably wouldn’t work in the one next door.
SO: No, indeed.
MG: No, he reminded me – or reminds me – of what we know as a ‘diplomat’, doing diplomatic work, and in this case mediation. And he was very good at reaching out. So was Sonny Ramphal, it’s just that I didn’t have that sort of close experience with Sonny Ramphal. They were both very good.
SO: Was this a reflection of Chief’s personality and preference for a discreet, below-the-radar approach?
MG: He certainly kept it below-the-radar. He was very careful.
SO: His discretion was highly deliberate?
MG: Very deliberate, and no press releases; none of that. It was very quiet.
SO: I know that he invited Sitiveni Rabuka to go into the Solomon Islands, where there was a political stand-off and violence between the Malaitan people and those in Guadalcanal. And I asked Sitiveni Rabuka if he got any kudos for this. He said, “Well, I certainly wasn’t paid! I went there for a year and I was Chief Emeka’s personal envoy.”
MG: That’s it. That’s after me, actually.
SO: I thought that Chief’s choice of envoy was interesting, selecting somebody from the region who understood a Pacific way, even if they didn’t necessarily speak the indigenous language and would have a broader view of the culture. But this was, again, very discreet.
MG: His special envoys of that nature were always very carefully selected, and most times there would be a small consultative session within the Secretariat, just to bounce names backwards and forwards. For example, he sent on to Bougainville – with me as the bag carrier and assistant – a Nigerian General [named] Haruna. Now, why a Nigerian General? Because he figured that in talking to the young man who was head of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army – an ex-Lieutenant of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force and graduate of an Australian military college [Sam Kauona] – a General would carry weight and status. With, for example, Bangladesh and its political [and] constitutional challenges, we talked about Zelman Cowen, with a background of the judiciary and constitutionalism. He was an authority and recognised as such. So, I would say [that] all of his special envoys were selected with a particular package of talents in mind. He didn’t just send anyone to anywhere.
SO: Thank you for that, Max. Where did the Secretary General fit in, then, in terms of international mediation? Was there any role for discussion between the Secretary General of the UNO speaking to the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, with encouragement that the Commonwealth should use its particular strengths, its ‘good offices’, contacts and judgement?
MG: Yes, that was there, particularly when Kofi Annan was Head of the UN. But not just then, also when Pérez de Cuéllar was SG.
SO: And Boutros Boutros-Ghali as well?
MG: Oh, Boutros-Ghali, of course. Now, the Chief used to make a point of going to New York every year around General Assembly time for a week or two. I remember Moses and I used to accompany him, along with one or two other officers. So, that was a pretty hectic round of seeing people: Permanent Representatives, senior people within the UN, and the UN Secretary General himself. And on particular issues, the Chief – or Sonny Ramphal before him – would deal with the SG of the UN. On South Africa, there would have been such dealings, and, I think – you’d have to check with Stuart Mole – I think the Chief could claim some sort of leading role in a Security Council resolution on South Africa at the time of the troubles in South Africa in the early 1990s.
SO: Yes, over the violence in KwaZulu-Natal.
MG: Yes, I think Chief was probably behind that, but you’d need to check with Stuart.
SO: This is UN Security Council Resolution 765, adopted in July 1992. The Resolution has come up in other interviews: Moses makes reference to it and Chief also made reference to it. Yes, it was certainly seen as a diplomatic victory. It really was putting down a marker – a permanent marker.
MG: Yes. I guess one of the difficulties of writing, in 2014, about a character such as Chief twenty years ago is that he did do a lot under the radar and was therefore probably a bit more effective for it, most times. Because he was certainly effective.
SO: This has been one of the questions that I’ve tried to put to people: was the Commonwealth effective precisely because it was more of an invisible actor? That is, did its relative invisibility enhance its diplomatic support system?
MG: Yes, that’s one reason it was effective. The second reason was that, I think, then, heads of government were more than happy for their Secretary General to do such things. With the exception of Mr Muldoon, but that’s…
SO: [Laughter] Oh?
MG: So, the Chief had the support of the presidents and prime ministers. He and Sonny Ramphal could pick up the phone and talk to… As far as I could see, if they needed or wanted to talk to a prime minister, they just did it.
SO: Why was Chief’s relationship with Kofi Annan particularly good? As a Ghanaian? As another African?
MG: That could be a factor. A lot of our work was in Africa, including Ghana in the 1990s. But it was also the fact that they were there together at the time, and Chief knew Kofi Annan for a very long time. Kofi Annan was a senior official in the UN Secretariat. So, in the 1980s, when you’re talking South Africa and Namibia and all these things, Chief would have dealt with the head of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, who was then Kofi Annan.
SO: Okay. And possibly because the Chief had selected for his point man in Africa another Ghanaian?
MG: Moses? Not because he was Ghanaian, I don’t think. Just because he was seriously bright, [Laughter] and could write like a dream.
SO: What about other Secretaries General, such as at the Organisation of African Unity and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference?
MG: Yes, I recall pretty close relations with the Head of the OAU. That was headed by the Ethiopian, wasn’t it?
SO: Salim Ahmed Salim?
MG: Yes, indeed, Salim Salim – a Tanzanian, yes. So, I think Chief and Sonny Ramphal were pretty close to him, also. Certainly, when I was in New York with Chief, I remember seeing Salim Salim fairly regularly. So, I think there was no hesitation on the part of those sorts of people – Kofi Annan, Salim Salim. Chief and Sonny were able to simply pick up the phone to them.
SO: Networks, again.
MG: Yes. And, of course, Chief, having been in the Secretariat for quite a long time himself, and as a Minister – he went back and he was a government Minister for a couple of months, but it was aborted, you know…Chief on the networking wasn’t too bad either.
SO: The Auckland CHOGM in 1995 was your last?
SO: I wonder if you could make a comparison between the protracted process of consultation, debate and arguments on the Harare Declaration and the creation of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group.
MG: Right. When they said there’s going to be CMAG, that was Auckland?
SO: CMAG was agreed at Auckland. That was when Prime Minister Jim Bolger and also Mandela were particularly effective at the Retreat in Queenstown.
MG: I can’t remember too much, to be honest. But I think it was starting to take shape as a successor to bodies that had preceded it, such as the Eminent Persons Group, the Commonwealth Committee on Southern Africa, and the High Level Working Group charged with re-enervating the Commonwealth. So, the template was there, if you like. And the CMAG was going to be a fresh way of dealing with some of the more difficult issues. But I left as it was being formed; [Laughter] I’m sure it went well.
SO: Were you at the Retreat?
MG: No. Generally, we didn’t go. What used to happen [was that] the Chief would go as the Secretary General; he would take Mary Mackie and Stuart Mole, and that was about it. We were back in the capital, getting the final draft of the Communiqué together, [waiting] on final advice from the Retreat. Anyway, there was plenty to do at headquarters, and the Retreat was kept very close. I think it was only one plus one.
SO: I just wondered if there had been a key national or individual contribution to the drafting the CMAG. Speaking to Jim Bolger, he said that he was tasked with the responsibility of persuading Dr Mahathir of the need to endorse a Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, and Robert Mugabe was persuaded by Nelson Mandela.
MG: [Laughter] Well, as I say, by 1995, the whole land issue in Zimbabwe was starting to really bubble. It was there in 1991, but it was considered a long-term issue.
SO: Yes, it was. There was then a succession of droughts in Zimbabwe in 1992-93, which prompted Mugabe to call for the assessment of food production versus commercial farming.
MG: Yes. With Mahathir, I really think that that issue with Kamil Jaafar and the rejection of him as a Deputy Secretary General… I think they all started to lose interest. Farida might be able to give you a take on that.
SO: Well, I just wondered, because the XVI Commonwealth Games opened in Kuala Lumpur in 1998…
MG: Yes, but that was decided about eight years before.
SO: Yes, Dr Mahathir offered to host the Games at Vancouver in 1987.
MG: Right, so, they weren’t going to pull out of it. And the Games is okay, but you see, in my time, Malaysia was not just interested: they were proactive in the Commonwealth issues being dealt with by the Secretariat on behalf of the membership. Out of the fifty members, you probably get ten or twelve that are proactive, and they were one of them. But I guess that died away.
SO: Did you identify a progressive disillusionment, or was it only with the benefit of hindsight?
MG: The benefit of hindsight. All of this happened in my last six months. In fact, I think myself and my colleagues, we were at once amazed and…what’s the word? Amazed and disappointed that Kamil Jaafar had not got the job. No reflection on the other fellow, but there was a general feeling of disappointment that he hadn’t got it.
SO: Well, he was a highly experienced diplomat and former Ambassador. He had been the head of their Foreign Ministry.
MG: Yes, that’s right. Well, the fellow who did get it, as you know, was of the same level. But he [Kris Srinivasan] certainly had a different attitude towards the place of the Secretariat in the wider world, and was quite open about it.
SO: How much do you think, then, at the time, that the appointment of an Indian in the DSG slot was precisely to enhance India’s own commitment to the Commonwealth?
MG: I think Chief loved the idea.
SO: Was it Manmohan Singh’s idea of a particularly Indian engagement?
MG: Well, Manmohan Singh has always been proactive in various ways towards the Commonwealth – particularly in trade and economic aspects. But, on the political side, I mean, I spoke about Indian reluctance to go along with certain aspects of the Harare Declaration, and reluctance to allow Human Rights to get out of the cage, reluctance to have non-sovereign officials doing anything too much, if you know what I mean.
SO: Moses also identified something like this at the African Regional Heads Meeting in Botswana in 1997, to which the opposition groups were also invited. He reflected that there was uniformity of hostility towards NGOs and, of course, Human Rights activity.
MG: Very dangerous, those Human Rights. [Laughter]
SO: Particularly if it was the focus of NGO activity. Not exclusively, but…
Max, you mentioned the Games. We’ve just had the Games in Glasgow. Were the Games at all political – in any way, shape or form – during your time at the Secretariat?
MG: Not to my knowledge. They didn’t affect us very much.
SO: How much did you feel that the Games were a useful showcase for the Commonwealth?
MG: I think we were all a bit too preoccupied with the political and the economic, with democracy and Human Rights. I think [that], collectively, we saw the Games as a nice bit of playtime. [Laughter]
SO: A ‘family sports day’! [Laughter]
MG: Yes. Maybe it will become more significant, I’m not sure, but it wasn’t high on our radar screen. The Secretary General went, of course, but… I don’t know, I think Jon Sheppard may have managed to get to Edinburgh, but certainly, in my time, it wasn’t high on our list of priorities.
SO: So, you didn’t go the New Zealand Games in 1990?
MG: No, I haven’t been to any of them, actually.
SO: Here you are in the UK, and you could have gone to Glasgow! [Laughter] It has been a very successful Games, I have to say, in Scotland.
MG: Yes, I’ll say.
SO: Although it’s also been used by a certain group to sell their political purpose up there.
Anyway, you mentioned Zimbabwe, the land reform and how the debate was starting to emerge in 1991. The farm invasions don’t really kick off until the late 1990s, which also sees the rise of political opposition to Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF with the Movement for Democratic Change and the creation of the National Constituent Assembly in 1999. Earlier in the 90s, was there any role that the Secretariat or the SG tried play, to assist in and accelerate land reform?
MG: I don’t think so. Where we were at in 1991… It wasn’t that the Zimbabweans were not addressing it – they were. I think the feeling was that the British, perhaps, were not addressing the matter to the extent that they should have been. Now, to what extent they could have addressed the issues, including compensation, I’m not too sure.
SO: The Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe certainly argued that it had the support of international financial institutions and that there should be no compulsory land reform programme. I understand that one of the reasons for ‘going slow’ was because of the negotiations in South Africa between 1991 and 1993.
MG: I seem to recall that, in 1991, the issue that was on the table – and certain governments were trying to delay it – was that of some sort of form of compensation. So, it was there for the Zimbabweans, but they were not encouraged to ratchet it up the scale. Not then. And when it did happen, I guess, Mugabe did that with his own government.
SO: So, you weren’t aware of any moves to establish any land audit, with a degree of additional funds being made available for land transfer by the mid-90s?
SO: Robert Mugabe has commented that he’s always found it easier to get on with Conservative British governments rather than with Labour ones. And I know that Anglo-Zimbabwe relations fell off the cliff after 1997/98.
MG: Right. I don’t recall that the whole issue was that severe in 1991. It was there; it was being dealt with. It was only eleven years from independence and would take time. Some accused the British government of being dilatory and so on. I suppose eleven years is not a long time in politics, yet, in some ways, it’s a very long time! [Laughter]
SO: Indeed. [Laughter] Harold Wilson remarked that “a week is a long time in politics.”
MG: At that time, I think Mugabe was being seen very much in the context of this Harare Declaration, and as one of the countries of Africa and one of the governments of Africa that could help others along the decolonisation and democratic track. It sounds all very naïve now, but that’s where we thought it was.
SO: History is lived forwards and written backwards. There is also the tension and the violence that was erupting in Sierra Leone in the 1990s. The Abidjan Peace Accord was finally brokered in November of 1996. I appreciate that that was after you left, but there had been roiling violence in West Africa.
MG: Yes, right. It started to unravel in my last year, I think – about 1995, am I right? And, I remember… It’s not that the Chief and all of us weren’t worried. We were very concerned, particularly with Sierra Leone and Foday Sankoh. I think Moses actually went in on an exploratory visit, and he was right up in the jungle somewhere. I think we nearly lost him. And I do remember Australian mining companies coming to see us, and they were all very worried.
SO: They were approaching you?
MG: They were all a bit lost. [Laughter] “What are you going to do about it? What’s being done?” So, it was cooking in my time, but we didn’t have any magic answers, that’s for sure.
SO: So, the Political Affairs/International Affairs Division wasn’t reaching out to ECOWAS structures or supporting British bilateral or multilateral moves?
MG: In my time, it was still a little bit early, I guess. It’s never too early, but you know what I mean. And it sort of started to unfold from 1996, 97, 98, from when it was bubbling. We also had the situation in the Gambia, where this fellow had taken over – Yahya Jammeh. He’s still there, isn’t he?
SO: He is still there, yes. He took over in a coup in 1994.
MG: Yeah, that was a bit of a worry. And then [in] Nigeria, President Sani Abacha – in the middle of CHOGM – hanged Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni dissidents.
SO: It must have been a particular insult and affront to Mandela, who put in a personal plea for clemency. A deeply shocking moment.
MG: Yes, it put a pall over the place. It was terrible.
SO: Max, can I ask you, please, about leadership and the Commonwealth? There seems to be a common theme running through this interview series of the importance of the personality, the political style and the connections of successive Secretary Generals. You commented early on – in your remarks at the Witness Seminar – that when you arrived at Marlborough House, the place was electric: that it was a dynamic, vigorous organisation and you felt that this was maintained under Chief’s leadership.
SO: Chief Emeka began his second term as Secretary General in 1995. Had there been any rumblings to try to replace him, or was he still seen as a suitable successor to Ramphal?
MG: I never heard of any rumblings. Probably within the Secretariat – without telling tales out of school – I think there might have been a clique that thought the Secretariat could do better. But I don’t agree with it, if it does exist, or if it did exist.
SO: There seems to be another consistent theme, which is that the Secretariat was asked to do more and more on an ever-decreasing budget. And, of course, this was the era in which the Chief instituted a massive inspection of the books, and a recalibration not just of CFTC but of the whole Secretariat.
MG: Yes, we went down considerably, I think, from memory.
SO: And then, of course, Don McKinnon did it again…
MG: Is there anyone left there? [Laughter]
SO: I don’t think they’ve quite turned out the lights! But what about other forms of leadership: the leadership of heads? How important is this in terms of the energy, the dynamism, and the profile of the Commonwealth?
MG: Of the heads of government? Oh, look, if you don’t have a core of five, six, nine, ten… If there’s not that core of heads of government – of presidents and prime ministers – who actually want to drive it a bit, then it’s very hard to make it work.
SO: So, during your time, who would you identify as being that core who saw the Commonwealth as an entity, as a valuable vehicle for their own national policies?
MG: Well, [Laughter] quite a handful of the prime ministers and presidents, actually. Some of the key movers and shakers – Dr Mahathir… The British Prime Ministers, they certainly didn’t ignore it. Whether it was because of Sonny and Chief, I’m not too sure, but the British Prime Ministers were engaged. Canadians; certain Caribbean [countries], i.e. Jamaica. And, of course, there were big issues such as South Africa, decolonisation, Namibia, democratisation… All of them big, exciting, global events, with a Commonwealth Secretariat and Commonwealth Secretary General who actually mattered. These were instruments that the prime ministers and presidents could use, and they did.
SO: The 1990s was a time of revolutionary and accelerating change in the structure of the international system, characterised also by a proliferation of international organisations. In the earlier era, the Commonwealth had a purpose – a utility, a visibility – which, after the end of the Cold War, seems to have dissipated somewhat. Can it be said that after the settlement of the challenge for racial justice in South Africa, that the Commonwealth was, in fact, decreasing in utility at heads level?
MG: Well, clearly, from what I see, because prime ministers and presidents don’t turn up en masse like they used to. Before they not only turned up en masse, they wouldn’t let any of their ministers come.
SO: I was interviewing Simon Murdoch, who had been the key top civil servant supporting Jim Bolger, and he said in his interview that he was determined that Jim Bolger was not going to go into that Retreat without his official. “He was going to need help!” I thought, I’m sorry, but this does make me smile, because the whole point of the Retreat was that they should escape their officials and go off-piste. [Laughter]
MG: That’s right. [Laughter] And the Retreats worked. The ones I knew about [were] in Langkawi and Elephant Hills and…Where did they go in Cyprus? I forget now. I wasn’t at any of them, but they worked: things were decided at these venues. Plus, the entire meeting was a two week affair. I’m not sure if you could get away with that in today’s world. Certainly, there was always a core of prime ministers and presidents who liked the concept and they wanted to drive it, and they wanted the SG, the institutions of the SG and the Secretariat, and wanted them to work. I think [that], in evolutionary terms, the end of the 1980s [and] early 1990s, we saw the tail end of decolonisation with South Africa and Namibia, and then Harare launched the whole democratisation, human rights and development movement. But from that point – I think I said [this] in my other interview – where I think we fell down as a Secretariat is that we were not really able really to consolidate some of the gains that were made. That’s not to say that such gains were not consolidated, but if they were, it tended to be done by others.
SO: You said at the Witness Seminar that, [Reading] “By 1995, not too long before I was to leave, we were turning our minds collectively to the states that had come through to some form of multi-party democracy with continuing fragilities, and what we might do as a Secretariat on behalf of the Commonwealth, to try to consolidate and reinforce the gains that had been made. There was, I recall, a lively debate…about how to use CFTC in a very targeted way.”
MG: Exactly. In other words, [how to] use very scarce resources to, first of all, address matters which might be easily remedied, and [also] those revealed in and by an election process. With experience, the Secretariat-backed election observer groups became quite clever, because in the final report written and issued before departure from the country in question, there could usually be found the template for making the process better the next time round. Typically, there would be a list of recommendations for the future. Now, what some of us thought was that we should use the CFTC to help implement those recommendations – strengthen electoral systems, introduce better and more appropriate legislation, etc. Also in our favour was that the best electoral experience on the planet is to be found in the Commonwealth – or, it was. And, in my direct experience, our Commonwealth electoral experts were fantastic: from the Caribbean, from India, Australia, the UK, Canada – all over.
SO: Jon Sheppard, your successor, made express reference to this wealth of knowledge, and he had extensive experience as an election observer, involved in election missions. He said that the selection of people to serve on those missions was also part of a knowledge dissemination process.
SO: So, they would return home having experienced what had worked and what had not worked elsewhere, and they could establish best practice.
MG: Yes. They were learning events for everyone. As I mentioned, most people in the Secretariat could hope at one stage or another to be on one of those missions, which, in turn, was terrific for morale in the Secretariat.
SO: Not only were people not stuck in the office, it was the experience of engagement?
MG: Yes, but it was our inability as a Secretariat to come back and help the most fragile. That’s where we did not do so well.
SO: Was that general weakness a function of lack of funds? You say, “any form of sustained follow-up”, yet Moses has said that what is extraordinary about the Commonwealth in his time there – before 2000 – was its achievement in comparison to its very modest resources.
MG: That’s true, and one institution that was unsung – and I don’t know if it still operates – was the Commonwealth Law Ministers Conference. They would hoover up the experience that we were all going through and put it on the table at Law Ministers Conferences. In turn, guidance would come out of the conferences, or the CHOGMs, or the Special Groups. In the end, I suppose, the resources were just too limited and the decision – if there was one – would have been to continue to spread the CFTC funds available.
SO: You also said at the Witness Seminar that, unfortunately, in any sort of sustained, targeted follow up, part of these efforts suffered from a transition to a different Secretary General. Don McKinnon’s tenure has been described, particularly, as a time when the Commonwealth and the Secretariat emphasized trade and economic aspects. Max, you’re an international civil servant and have remained an engaged and very knowledgeable Commonwealth observer. Do you think part of issue of impact or visibility is related to the lack of commitment – again, going back to leadership – from a Secretary General, saying, “We need to make sure that our limited resources are focussed on this question of building institutions”?
MG: Well, in defence of any Secretary General on the matter of the spending of funds, that’s where the countries did become particularly interested, and they can tie your hands. [Laughter] And I think the inclination, as time went on, was to limit the Secretariat’s role rather than expand it on the political and human rights and governance side. Maybe the trade and economic side… That was quite strong in my time, as well. But I think, as I said, the argument of some of us – possibly including the Chief and Sonny Ramphal – was to target the ten most fragile and see what we could do. And it just didn’t happen on a sustained basis. Look at Kenya.
SO: Indeed. Just to go to a third aspect on this question of leadership, how important is – and what would be your observations on – the role of the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth, and the role of the Monarch as Head of the Commonwealth going forward, once Queen Elizabeth II is no longer with us?
MG: Well, the answer to that is we’d better keep her for as long as possible! [Laughter] There’s absolutely no doubt that, as a personality in her own right, she’s right there. You have to laugh: some of the most leftist politicians in the world – particularly [from the] Caribbean and sometimes Australia and New Zealand – they love going and meeting this Head of the Commonwealth.
SO: At a recent lecture in Lisbon, I described the Queen as having personal charisma, arguing that she was highly astute and adept at using this charisma, because she’s a very effective politician – with a small ‘p’.
MG: Very; I agree.
SO: And my audience looked me at blankly and said, “How can you say an 87-year-old British monarch has political charisma?”
MG: No, she does; without a doubt. As to what happens, things are already happening. If you look at the Secretariat today, I – as an outsider – would wonder what its role is. Is the role to make sure that the heads get together and come to agreement on key issues every couple of years? Maybe.
SO: That was the original idea – let’s face it – in the debates over setting up the Secretariat and the SG in 1964/65, in the founding Memorandum.
MG: That’s absolutely right. And then you could argue that it got out of control in…
SO: It did!
MG: [Laughter]…in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
SO: Well, Sonny Ramphal could not have done what he did if Arnold Smith hadn’t set up the Secretariat and driven this international organisation forward, using the ‘soft’ policy space.
MG: That’s right, yes. The future is – like everything – an amalgam of a whole lot of things, and I guess whatever form it takes, the Monarch of Great Britain will be the head of it.
SO: Can you see a time in the near future when the Commonwealth decides it has sufficiently grown up and that it doesn’t need a head? A formal head, that is. It has a Secretary General.
MG: Good question.
SO: Derek Ingram raised this idea thirty years ago.
MG: Ah, not with the present one: and no reflections on the people who follow. We don’t know who that is, anyway. I don’t know.
SO: So, how did you perceive and observe the Queen to be particularly effective in her role as Head of the Commonwealth?
MG: Well, firstly, as far as I know, she was always readily available to the Secretary General who – and I think this must still happen – briefs her on a fairly regular basis. I don’t know when, but I do seem to remember Chief doing this every so often. Very much was made at the CHOGM of the event when she would not only see the heads collectively but she saw all of them one by one. I suppose it still happens. So, if you’re talking about diplomacy under the radar, what she says in those one-on-ones…Well, we have no evidence either way, but I’m sure it’s always very wise. But I think just her being there, with that sort of experience… She was there in 1952: none of the others can say that. [Laughter] But maybe the position of Head of Commonwealth will lapse; maybe it will.
SO: Please, could I ask about the Commonwealth and development? You’ve made reference to this: that part of the Commonwealth’s ‘grand strategy’ in a time of change was to support post-independence political institution-building and development, in addition to the other grand strategy of opposing apartheid. Why do you think CFTC did not get the kudos and recognition that it could be said to deserve?
MG: Yes, it did do good work and possibly still does, I don’t know. Why didn’t it get the kudos? I think individual governments probably preferred to give the kudos to their own aid organisations and instruments.
SO: Ah, so, the political benefit comes with bilateral aid and grants, loans, etc., in a one-to-one arrangement, rather than contributing to a multilateral pot.
MG: I assume so.
SO: Were you at all involved in any of the discussions about the HIPC, Heavily Indebted Poor Countries, debt relief initiative?
MG: No, but I would like to add one thought in relation of the CFTC and development activities through the Commonwealth. I think where the CFTC was particularly valuable – and possibly still is – is in enabling the smaller countries, of which there are twenty-five or thirty, to be able to cope, for example, with the global discussion on economic development. Right now, we’re in the final stages globally of moving from MDGs, Millennium Development Goals, to Sustainable Development Goals – I think that’s what they’re going to be after 2015. With the best will in the world, it’s very difficult for any small country with a small bureaucracy to keep up with the issues involved. Now, I know that during the 1990s and particularly during my time, the CFTC and the economic side of the Secretariat actually did a lot of work in helping small countries come to us in relation to the bigger global issues and the bigger pictures. That actually applied to global political issues, as well. In my time we set up in New York – or, rather, the Secretariat set up – the Commonwealth Small States Office.
SO: Yes, it’s still there.
MG: It’s still there. Well, that’s not a bad reflection of service to small states. But I just wanted to make the point that, right now, I assume that this is a particularly important role for the Secretariat: to help these smaller countries cope. It’s capacity building and it’s also knowledge transfer.
SO: Yes, which perhaps explains why there are a raft of appointments being advertised by the Secretariat at the moment in the development sector! So, how far do you think, then, from your perspective, that the Commonwealth is indeed the quintessential small states organisation, by virtue of the majority of its members being those – I think you said – ‘sovereign mice’?
MG: Right. [Laughter]
SO: Is that its unique selling point, that it is a small states organisation?
MG: Well, it’s not to be underestimated, because I think, for the Secretariat’s existence, it has certainly been a defender and a builder of small states capacity. They don’t have too many friends elsewhere, apart from, say, the World Bank and the IMF and neighbouring countries, but sometimes they want someone a bit more neutral.
SO: Yes, indeed. What about the Commonwealth and the question of Human Rights, which, after all, is particularly contentious at the moment? Sir Ronald Sanders has written very cogently about this, saying that there appears to be emerging in the Commonwealth a divide between ‘old Commonwealth’ – those that are more of a western liberal democratic tradition – and ‘new Commonwealth’, who don’t place quite such emphasis on judiciable rights. So, there’s an increasing tension within the association, and it is manifest particularly on this question of the Human Rights Commissioner.
MG: It’s been there since the beginning. [Laughter] That was one of the big battles in the 1990s: between the western liberal democracies in the Commonwealth – focussing on elections and democracy and constitutions, etc., etc., etc. – and the Malaysias, the Indias and Caribbeans of this world, who said, “Just a moment, rights is more than just the political. It’s political and economic.” So, Harare might have been a forerunner, but the communiqué from the Cyprus CHOGM in 1993 is revealing in its articulation of the concepts of democracy, Human Rights and development.
SO: You had made mention, earlier, that the communiqué in the Limassol CHOGM in 1993 built on the back of the Vienna meeting.
MG: That’s right. The Vienna World Conference on Human Rights. There was a Geneva meeting preceding it, amongst the Commonwealth nations, to bridge this emerging chasm between the political and economic.
SO: Yes, okay. Madhuri talked expressly about that. So, how much of a relationship was there between the Secretariat and the Commonwealth Human Rights initiative, set up at Jaipur in 1989? That was not a product of the Human Rights Unit – it was a separate, autonomous entity?
MG: Right. Well, I think possibly the argument would be that whether you have a Commonwealth Human Rights Unit within the Secretariat or not is neither here nor there. Everyone should be thinking ‘rights’, and in the UN that’s what I have always told my staff. Because there is an office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the UN doesn’t mean that they’re the only ones responsible for the promotion and protection of Human Rights. Rights are universal, and they’re not just political. They’re economic. So, I think the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative was partly an attempt to reach out into the non-government world, as well. Most Human Rights are contravened by governments, anyway. The Human Rights Unit [is] a small instrument within the Secretariat, but I would hope that every officer in the Secretariat now thinks ‘rights’.
SO: So, what’s your view of a Commonwealth Human Rights Commissioner, then? Problematic, in terms of expense? Or in terms of duplication, because of the UN Human Rights Commissioner? Or because it risks interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign nations?
MG: Well, I think my response to that – off the cuff, very much – would be that the Secretary General is that person. Certainly, in the UN, that’s the case, whether the Secretary General likes it or not. But the chief of Human Rights in the United Nations is the Secretary General.
SO: Indeed. So, you are saying that, in the Commonwealth, there is already a Human Rights Commissioner in the form of the SG?
MG: Yes, absolutely. It would be interesting to see what the former Secretaries General think of that. They might agree, actually.
SO: It’s going to be interesting, too, for the role of the Secretary General and the selection of the next candidate going forward, after Secretary General Sharma has reached the end of his second term in 2016. I know there is discussion now about whether or not there should be established criteria. For instance, is it a question of regionalism and should this be brought into play? Is there a question of circulation around the Commonwealth, or is it, in fact, about finding the best candidate for the job?
MG: There haven’t been enough yet to properly look at it on a geographical basis. [Laughter] There has only been five.
SO: Max, what would you say, then, for the viability of the Commonwealth going forward?
MG: Well, like any of these things, it will be what people want to make of it. I would say that, of the three or four things that are absolutely critical, one is buy-in from the leaders of the Commonwealth: prime ministers and presidents. I think the second thing that is critical is – whether you like it or not – [that] the Secretary General is not a puppet. So, you have to pick the right person for the job. And the third part of it, I would toss in – it sounds very blasé – is that what should govern the life of the Secretary General are rights and principles. And the ones I served with did. I think they governed and were governed by rights and principles.
SO: So, they should be a public conscience?
MG: I think so. I’m sure there are plenty of people that disagree with that, but I think so. [Laughter]
SO: Speaking truth to power?
MG: Yes. Otherwise, then, they just organise the CHOGMs every two years.
SO: Some have said that part of the problem is also the diminution of time [devoted to the CHOGM] and also the acceptance of officials and deputies into the meetings which has further diluted the importance of the Commonwealth in the minds of busy heads. Faced with the multiplicity of international meetings, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting no longer has the unique quality and space that it once did.
MG: Yes, that sounds right.
SO: So, does that need a complete recalibration then?
MG: It does, and it will come from the new Secretary General. Whoever that will be is going to partly determine what happens, I think.
SO: Do you feel that, in comparison to La Francophonie and the new Lusophone group, the Commonwealth in fact still has a residual vitality, despite people saying it will last only because of inertia?
MG: No, I think it does have resilience – both the concept and the reality. The fact that we all have roughly the same sets of laws and rules and regulations and generally speak the same language is an enormous help.
SO: Indeed. Max, thank you very much indeed. I’m really grateful.
[END OF AUDIOFILE PART TWO]