As Prince Charles anchors the Commonwealth, challenges lie ahead

KABALA, Uganda (AP) – Prince Charles became the first British king to visit Rwanda, representing Queen Elizabeth II as the ceremonial head of the Commonwealth at a summit where both the 54-nation bloc and the monarchy face off. .

Royal historian Ed Owens said the 73-year-old heir to the British throne could see that when he succeeds his mother as Commonwealth leader, he “finds himself at the head of an organization that is rapidly disintegrating”. However, Charles’s decades-old commitment to environmental issues could prove to be an advantage with the bloc including low-altitude island states at the forefront of climate change, he said.

“His concern for the climate, his concern for the environment is very real,” Owens said.

This week’s summit in Rwanda will address challenges such as climate change and how to lift millions out of poverty.

Charles was formally designated as the Queen’s successor as Commonwealth Ritual in 2018, although some have suggested that a non-royal leader would give the Commonwealth a modern profile. He supports the 96-year-old queen at the bloc summit for the second time, for the first time in Sri Lanka in 2013, as seen in preparation for his future role as monarch.

The Commonwealth itself is struggling to establish a strong identity. It faces criticism for not doing enough to take care of the financial interests of the poorest members, including Rwanda itself. A weakness of the group of mostly former British colonies is that it is not a trading bloc at a time when trade is what most nations want.

With China as Africa’s largest trading partner, some critics say, the Commonwealth is in danger of being a highly ritualistic group.

“The challenge for the Commonwealth has always been how developed nations can help poor countries transform economically,” said James Mugume, a retired Ugandan diplomat who helped host the Commonwealth summit in 2007.

The wealthy members of the bloc “use it for soft power, but when it comes to real issues such as how to increase trade and market access, that’s the challenge,” Mugume said.

While the queen is widely respected at home and abroad, Charles’s relationship with the public is more complicated. A few days before flying to Rwanda, the Times of London reported that it had described as “disgusting” the British government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda arriving in the United Kingdom.

The anonymous source was widely seen as an attempt to distance himself from the controversial – and, critics say, illegal – policy that threatens to overshadow his visit. Legal challenges halted a flight bringing the first group of asylum seekers just days before the summit.

Charles hailed the Commonwealth’s ability to make a difference on issues such as climate change and opportunities for young people, “and, in doing so, to be an unparalleled force for good.”

The need to benefit every member of the Commonwealth has become a strong issue this week, with people demanding a more dynamic bloc.

“We have to make sure that no one is left behind, like the small and developing nations,” Rwanda President Paul Kagame said on Tuesday, adding that he wanted to see a bloc in which “when we talk about the Commonwealth, we actually mean that it is the Commonwealth. it’s not just common in some of the many 54 countries. “

The bloc, with member states ranging from the vast India to tiny Tuvalu, faces a new challenge as some discuss the removal of the queen as head of state. He is head of state in 14 Commonwealth kingdoms, but the Barbados severed ties with the monarchy in November, and several other Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, say they intend to follow suit.

While countries can remain in the Commonwealth if they become democracies, it reinforces uncertainty around an organization that the queen’s strong personal commitment has helped unite.

Questions remain about the value of the bloc among the poorest Member States, with some critics mocking Africa’s ties to an organization they see as tainted by the memory of slavery and colonialism.

“Look at the case of this year’s host (Commonwealth Summit). Rwanda was not colonized by the British but by the Belgians … It is like the charm of the village that leaves one bully and falls into the arms of the other to make the first one jealous but also to still have the privileges and protection to be carried away by the powerful. said analyst Nicholas Sengoba in a column in the Uganda Daily Monitor.

Rwanda joined the Commonwealth in 2009 after ties with the former benefactor France broke due to its alleged responsibility for the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

In Rwanda, Charles will meet genocide survivors and perpetrators, visiting a church where the remains of tens of thousands of victims are buried.

___ Lawless reported from London.

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