The government has recently made great efforts to strengthen the neo-colonial ties that exist in the so-called Commonwealth, the organisation of some fifty-two states around the world, most of which were former British colonies. Such plans, especially those involving African countries, are apparently such a significant aspect of the new post-Brexit “Global Britain” that some government officials began referring to them as “Empire 2.0”, a phrase that subsequently appeared in the press, ahead of the inaugural summit of Commonwealth trade ministers held in London last week. At the same time, the government used the occasion of “Commonwealth Day” to promote the idea that the Commonwealth is more of a club of equals than a means for the rich and powerful to perpetuate their domination over millions of people throughout the world. Already preparations are being made for the Commonwealth heads of government meeting, which will take place next April in London, as an occasion to further strengthen this domination.
The recent Commonwealth summit, attended by ministers and delegations from thirty-five countries, was organised by the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC), which describes itself as “the private sector’s gateway to doing business in the Commonwealth”. Its membership includes both governments and big monopolies, many with major interests in Africa, such as Gem Diamonds, Firestone Diamonds and Standard Chartered. According to reports CWEIC is, amongst other things, particularly interested in breaking into Commonwealth healthcare markets. Over sixty representatives from big business attended the summit. The involvement of the CWEIC exposes the entire purpose of the summit and contradicts the view, promoted by the government, that the Commonwealth is an organisation of equals, or that it is concerned with an equal claim on common wealth.
The Commonwealth is especially important because of the influence that Britain exerts over many of its members through so-called “aid” and other neo-colonial ties, including economic domination by the big monopolies and financial institutions. The Commonwealth constitutes an enormous market as its member states have a combined population of 2.4 billion people, nearly half of whom are under 25. Latest economic indicators show that intra-Commonwealth trade has grown faster than the global average over the recent period, and is projected to be worth $1 trillion per year by 2020. According to the IMF, some countries’ imports are likely to grow even faster in the next five years, including those of several African countries such as Mozambique, Ghana and Sierra Leone, as well as countries such as India, Bangladesh and Brunei. However, although the wealth generated within the geographic boundaries of this organisation may be produced by the working people of many countries, they do not have first claim on it, nor is it even distributed amongst the member states. Rather, the Commonwealth is politically dominated by Britain, the former colonial power, although it also includes other economically powerful states and former “Dominions” such as Canada and Australia. It also includes two of the BRICS, South Africa and India, as well as some of the world’s poorest countries.
It is evident that the government has plans to develop both an African free trade zone and a wider Commonwealth free trade zone, which will be of most benefit to the big monopolies and financial institutions. Such proposals were part of the agenda of the recent summit, which also attempted to unite all its participants around the notion that neo-liberal globalisation is the answer to all of the world’s ills rather than a major contributing factor. Championing the benefits of “free trade” was also the main theme of the speech by Liam Fox, Minister for International Trade, who spoke of neo-liberal globalisation as “liberation from poverty” and warned of the dangers of any form of protectionism. Even so, some smaller countries pointed out that the pursuit of so-called free trade was mainly in the interests of Britain and the other more economically powerful states. They stressed that free trade often meant the freedom of the big powers to dominate smaller economies and the prevention of the smaller economies from access to overseas markets and required financial services, most notably through the practice of what is known as de-risking.
It is evident that the government is trying to bind the Commonwealth ever-more closely to its aims, to strengthen the economic and geopolitical objectives of the big monopolies and financial institutions. It wishes to tighten its neo-colonial grip on the members of the Commonwealth and demand allegiance to the same British values, the values of neo-liberal globalisation that best serve the needs of big business and finance. In short, it wishes to turn the clock back to the days of empire, in a vain attempt to make Britain “great” again. However, although the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, might be nostalgic about colonialism in Africa, the peoples of Africa and other parts of the world will not subject themselves to “Empire 2.0”. Nor will other big and emerging powers, both those in the Commonwealth, as well as those outside it. What must be demanded is that the Commonwealth and other remnants of empire are completely dismantled and consigned to the rubbish bin of history.