With around five months to go before the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games begin, it is particularly fitting for the Commonwealth family to celebrate this year’s Commonwealth day under the overarching theme of “Team Commonwealth”.
As a former Commonwealth games athlete myself, I can relate to what it means to not only be representing your own country under the banner of your own flag, but to also represent something much bigger, broader- but also something harder to define.
The challenge of the Commonwealth, is obviously to create a space that is greater than the sum of its parts- this is what makes a team.
This year’s theme is a celebration of the team spirit that unites the 53 countries that make up the Commonwealth and of the values and aspirations that they all share in creating just and peaceful societies, in achieving sustainable and inclusive social progress, in advancing democracy and in building economic resilience.
In pursuing this image of a team- I think it is useful to consider that the strength of “Team Commonwealth” is that it does not seek to seamlessly blend very different talents, or abilities into a cohesive unit. In the context of 53 vastly different units, such an approach is doomed to fail. It is more useful to see the strength of “Team Commonwealth” as a series of individual performances that combine into a very strong total.
Thus the Commonwealth is less of a football team where you have to get your defenders and strikers on the same wavelength, but more of a relay team, where the individual efforts of several come together to bring about the desired result.
This relay team allows each individual member to prepare and train according to their own expectations, requirements and abilities.
Seychelles is a proud and longstanding member of the Commonwealth. And we consider that whenever we have to undertake our leg of this relay- that we want to ensure that the baton is in safe hands.
By joining other countries around the world in marking Commonwealth Day by organizing such activities like the debate today, we are paying tribute to an important part of Seychelles’ heritage, as well as to the strong partnership among Commonwealth members that is vital to our future.
Living in isolation cannot be an option for any country in the world.
If we want to surmount the many challenges that come with globalisation, only partnerships hold the solutions needed in confronting those challenges and harnessing the opportunities that globalization offers.
We see that “Team Commonwealth” provides its members with more options than they have individually in relating to these challenges.
We may also rightly question some of the commitments that we make to be part of the team. But for Seychelles, the commitments we make are part of hwat makes the Commonwealth a high performance team.
And what are the criteria that we believ contribute to the high performance:
Over many years, the Commonwealth has brought together in a constructive way the diverse perspectives held by its membership on global economic, financial, social and environmental developments. There have been significant collective Commonwealth actions to identify and raise interest in global issues despite the diversity of its members. This has never been an easy feat. These advocacy issues include climate change, multilateral debt, migration and skills, the vulnerability of small states, aid effectiveness, poverty reduction, transforming economies and achieving sustainable development.
Some critics of the Commonwealth claim that the organization is simply a vehicle for the soft power of its more powerful members.
It is important that we address such criticism. In the view of Seychelles, the Commonwealth offers a vehicle for soft power of all its members.
The strength of the Commonwealth lies in the talent and contribution of ALL its members.
There are no voting blocs within the Commonwealth. There are no regional blocks.
As a team, Commonwealth has managed to meld together diverse and challenging histories into something that is capable of delivering unity, peace, human rights and sustainable development.
We believe we can also be very optimistic about the future of the Commonwealth.
There is a clear call for action within the Commonwealth. With the adoption of the Charter last year, we all know what we need to do to implement the values and ideals of the Commonwealth. The Charter represents a shared statement on our values, and on our vision for a better path towards sustainable development.
The Commonwealth is also a team that works with other teams in cooperation more than competition. We commend the initiative of Secretary general Kamalesh Sharma on having strengthened the dialogue of the Commonwealth with the G20 and with like-minded organizations such as ‘La Francophonie.’
What does the future of the Commonwealth represent for Seychelles?
Over half of Commonwealth members are Small Island developing States (SIDS). Over half of citizens of the Commonwealth are below the age of 25.
Seychelles has often argued that the future of sustainable development depends on being able to find a sustainable framework for island development.
The Commonwealth will mean something to our young people if it can address the real challenges of the most marginalized.
The Commonwealth is a key partner in identifying answers to these questions.
At the end of this month, following a decision of our last CHOGM, I will be chairing a special Commonwealth working group on how best to tackle the needs of small states in this International Year of Small island developing States, and where we shall also seek to reinforce support for Small island States through support for concepts such as the Blue Economy.
We look forward to continued debates on how best to improve our Commonwealth.
Certainly for Seychelles- we can say with conviction it is one of the best placed teams to help us achieve our goals.
I thank you.