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Kigali Commonwealth Summit Opens Amidst Big Absentees

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Commonwealth leaders gather in Rwanda this week to discuss issues ranging from trade to health to climate change, a summit that will test the organisation’s mettle at a time when its relevance is being questioned.

The Commonwealth, a club of 54 countries that evolved from the British Empire, encompasses about a third of humanity, with members ranging from India to tiny Nauru. It presents itself as a network for cooperation with shared goals such as democracy, peace and prosperity, but critics, including many who are supportive of its values, say it needs to be more than a talking shop. We would like to see not just posturing, said Kathryn Nwajiaku-Dahou of the Overseas Development Institute think tank. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has called for the Commonwealth to act more as a bloc like the European Union, writing in a recent column that the Kigali summit should be a moment when the potential for our club is reimagined. However, the signal from some other members is much less upbeat. India, Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand are among countries that are sending ministers but not heads of government to Kigali. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is four hours away by plane, will not attend the event.

26th Commonwealth Summit (2)

On the plus side for the Commonwealth, which is open to countries that were not part of the British Empire, former French colonies Gabon and Togo are lined up to join.

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