Monday was Commonwealth Day, observed by countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Americas, the Pacific, and Europe, and it was the start of a week-long schedule of events. The theme for Commonwealth Day 2023 was “Forging a sustainable and peaceful common future”.

This year, it marked the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Commonwealth Charter. The Commonwealth Charter is meant to be a document that unites Member States through a set of shared values. It “expresses the commitment of member states to the development of free and democratic societies and the promotion of peace and prosperity to improve the lives of all the people of the Commonwealth” and “acknowledges the role of civil society in supporting the goals and values of the Commonwealth”.

The sixteen values and principles of the Charter are democracy, human rights, international peace and security, tolerance, respect and understanding, freedom of expression, separation of powers, rule of law, good governance, sustainable development, protecting the environment, access to health, education, food and shelter, gender equality, importance of young people in the Commonwealth, recognition of the needs of small States, recognition of the needs of vulnerable states, and the role of civil society.

The Commonwealth Charter does not address the history of the Commonwealth or what most of the Member States actually have in common and made them a part of this group. It does not address slavery and colonisation, nor does it acknowledge the continued impact of both slavery and colonization on Member States and, more specifically, the people in situations of vulnerability within those Member States. This cannot be separated from the stated values.


We can take rule of law as an example. The Charter says: “We believe in the rule of law as an essential protection for the people of the Commonwealth and as an assurance of limited and accountable government. In particular we support an independent, impartial, honest and competent judiciary and recognise that an independent, effective and competent legal system is integral to upholding the rule of law, engendering public confidence and dispensing justice.”

Member States that were colonised by the British were left with laws that discriminate against women, girls, and LGBTQI+ people.

Even with independence, the laws remained the same, and many Member States have the same, or strikingly similar, constitutions. Since colonization, Britain has amended many of its laws toward equality and non-discrimination in various areas, including gender.

Meanwhile, Member States like The Bahamas are still stuck with discriminatory laws. This impacts gender equality which is another value in the Commonwealth Charter.

It is easy to say that Member States should accept responsibility for their state of affairs and amend their laws. It is not, however, realistic. It must be acknowledged that discriminatory laws were imposed by colonising countries.

They are responsible for the harm caused and the violence that continues to be inflicted upon the people living in Member States, namely women, girls, LGBTQI+ people, black people, indigenous people, and people with disabilities.

Constitutional reform, as we have seen through our own experience since 2002, is not as simple a process as it ought to be because it is not a matter of drafting and passing a bill, or even getting the public to vote in it. It requires education that includes unlearning.

Older generations grew up with a set of ideologies that many of us have learned are untrue, unfair, unjust, and unacceptable. They are convinced that there is no way for the world, or for this country, to be without distinctions that rank us and set some of us up to be considered and treated as subhuman.

Undoing the violence and subjugation that led to the firm belief in discriminatory laws and practices is not possible, but reparatory justice is possible.

The process of unlearning is not easy, it is not short-term work, and it is not receiving the investment that is required. There is, first of all, no political will, and that is partly because of the religion that was forced upon our countries through slavery and colonization, becoming the dominant religion with ease.

People now believe they have a moral authority to discriminate and be violent toward certain groups of people because of the fundamentalist teaching of religious leaders who do not hide that they pull the string of Members of Parliament and political parties that are obviously more committed to the longevity of their political careers than they are to sustainability, peace, or the equality and wellbeing of people — the same people they depend on to vote for them every ten years (since we know our dissatisfaction leads us to change parties every five years).

We have an ineffective system of governance. We have two almost indistinguishable political parties that takes turns being the majority in the House of Assembly. We have Members of Parliament who are expected to both make laws and attend to issues within their constituencies, so they are set up to fail, especially when combined with the expectation that they maintain party loyalty, regardless of what it means for the people they represent.

We have a largely disengaged electorate that is kept busy with multiple jobs, limited by non-living wages, and exhausted by the losses and demands -from hours of wasted time in traffic to unpaid and completely unsupported labour of caring for people with specific needs – that come with living and working in a place that is designed for the wealthy and the foreign to thrive at the expense of everyone else.

Rule of a law, as a value, cannot take us very far. The law is severely lacking in many areas. There is no protection from discrimination for women and girls. There is no protection from discrimination for LGBTQI+ people.

Women do not have the right to automatically pass on citizenship to their children, regardless of who they marry or where they give birth. Legal reform requires an engaged civil society and rights-minded lawmakers. We lack both.

The Commonwealth Charter, then, is missing one major component that could actually give it momentum and increase buy-in. That component is the acknowledgement of wrongdoing, specifically naming the violence against Member States, along with reparations.

CARICOM has developed a 10-point plan for reparatory justice that is a good place to start, and The Bahamas National Reparations Committee is prepared to lead the conversation in The Bahamas.

With 2023 being the Year of Youth, Commonwealth Foundation hosted “A Decade of the Commonwealth Charter: Young Leaders’ Dialogue” which was a virtual event live-streamed to Facebook. At the beginning of the event, Commonwealth Foundation posed questions to the audience. Where do we want the Commonwealth to be in ten years’ time? How can the Charter inform and help get us there? How do we promote greater awareness of the Commonwealth Charter amongst the people of the Commonwealth?

The young people speaking at the event including Larissa Crawford (she/ her) from Future Ancestors Services and based in Canada, Christine Samwaroo (she/her) from The Breadfruit Collective in Guyana, Riddhi Dastidar (they/them) based in Delhi, Deanna Lyncook from The History Hotline podcast, based in the UK.

The discussion was especially interesting because the participants were not there to be polite or deferential to anyone or any ideals. They pushed back against a number of ideas including that young people are responsible for fixing the problems they did not create, that the values in the Commonwealth Charter are inherently good or easily translated and applicable to every Member State, and that there is nothing to be done about the past.

They named communities that have been violated and that need to be specifically supported. They called for action to make use of their recommendations and those that have been shared in other spaces. It was clear that they did not want to be a part of a conversation that ended when the virtual meeting link expired, but one that contributed to better outcomes.

You can find the recording on the Commonwealth Foundation’s Facebook page, and connect with the speakers through the links provided in the comments.

These are all topics that ought to be at the front of our minds as we approach fiftieth anniversary of independence of The Bahamas.

We should be thinking about what was taken from this country, what is owed to it, and what we owe to ourselves. We should be seeking clarity on our values. We should be making assessments on how far — or not so far — we have come since 1973, and what needs to happen in the next five, 10, 25, and 50 years for the people in this country to thrive.

Fifty plus years of survival mode is not good enough. We need justice. We need peace. We need equality. We deserve to be on another level.

Published in The Tribune on March 15, 2023

In response to the growing Black Lives Matter movement, QCT has been running a weekly discussion with young people looking at various forms of injustice on the experiences of young people today. This is part of the Trust’s wider work on considering historic injustice, which started in late 2019. QCT exists to champion, fund and connect young leaders around the world; this work is being driven by young people in its network and is helping to inform the Trust’s future direction.

In the special session last week, QCT was joined by The Duke and Duchess alongside Chrisann Jarrett, QCT Trustee and co-founder and co-CEO of We Belong; Alicia Wallace, director of Equality Bahamas; Mike Omoniyi, founder and CEO of The Common Sense Network; and Abdullahi Alim who leads the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers network of emerging young leaders in Africa and the Middle East.

The above is taken directly from the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust press release. Read more about the conversation here, and watch the edited recording here.

In last week’s session, young people in the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust talked about what is taking place in their national and regional contexts in response to the Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. We talked about the gap between gestures and meaningful action, the link between race and class, the tension between address issues at home and showing solidarity for actions abroad, and how COVID-19 and the stay-at-home orders may have helped to fuel the current movement and the global response to Black Lives Matter protests.

Every now and then, the conversation about the statue of Christopher Columbus starts again. It generally does not last for a long time, but people weigh in and we end up with the same sets of opinions. Some people think it should be removed from Government House while others think it should stay.

Of the people who believe it should be removed, some want it destroyed while others say it would be better to put it in a museum and provide context to make it clear he was not a hero, but a genocidal murderer. Most of the people who want it to stay seem to think it is must remain to preserve history. They view it as a harmless relic with little meaning attached and should not evoke any negative feelings.

Still others argue the statue is not the problem and suggest it is useless to get rid of it when Government House remains, the Governor General continues to represent the Queen and she is the head of state.

To be clear, the Columbus statue is not the entire problem. No one ever said it was that simple. We have, however, noted the issue of its prominent location which suggests it represents a person deserving of attention and reverence. We know this is far from the truth. It is not even accompanied by a plaque with the truth about Columbus and what he did after landing on San Salvador in 1492.


We cannot assume that people know the history. It was not long ago that Columbus Day and Discovery Day were celebrated. People in their thirties and twenties were taught a completely fallacious history about the man and would know no better if not for conversations of this kind.

We know the statue of Columbus is the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface is colonization, slavery and racism in various forms including systemic and internalised. We have not generally been enthusiastic about these conversations either. The lack of discussion has brought us to this place, barely able to sort through the interconnected issues that demand our attention if we are to move forward and build a more inclusive, equitable nation.

There is no shortage of issues to address that are both related to the statue we can see every day and rooted in systems that are hundreds of years old and that we have learned to ignore in our daily lives. Those issues need our attention, however, they do not detract from the point being made by the people who want the statue removed. It is in an inappropriate location. It sends the wrong message. There are no sound arguments for keeping it there. We will not be banned from discussing other relevant issues if we dare to move it before we eradicate racism.

Do we care more about where we start, or starting at all?

The response to the call for the removal of the statue has not been unlike many other conversations taking place nationally. There is an enthusiastic opposition that does not necessarily disagree with the idea, but is being excessively critical of the call because they would prefer a different starting point or want the conversation to be rooted in a different area. They want to focus on a larger issue. They assume the removal of the statue is a failure to acknowledge the complication of its site.

One of the reasons it is difficult to make progress on issues like this one is the need for people to control narratives and assert themselves as superior in knowledge. It is entirely possible to support the removal of the statue while calling attention to the existence of Government House, the role of the Governor General, continued allegiance to the Queen and the cost of this useless system.

We can make plans to move the statue in two weeks and sustain conversations about why it was put there in the first place and the work that still needs to be done up to and far beyond that date. We are not limited to one statue, one conversation nor one course of action. The conversation will not end when the statue is gone if the people who care about more than the statue are dedicated to continuing it. We have to accept responsibility for our roles in this work and understand everyone is not in the same place or called to the same tasks. It is still possible to work with them and build on their actions.

The removal of statues in the US and Bristol in the UK reignited the conversation about the Christopher Columbus statue. It does not mean we are going to ignore everything and getting rid of the statue will be the end of our work. What is happening around the world is the building of momentum. It is creating a wave of actions that are inspired by those that precede it. Now is a good time to make moves.

If some of us want to talk about systemic racism in this majority black country — much to the chagrin of the people who benefit from it — and other people want to move a statue and we see the connections between the two, let’s talk about it. Note the commonalities. Support the action. Bring context to the conversation. Know that we can do both.

Let new people in and let them learn and grow

Many of the people participating in conversations about current events and underlying systems are new to them. Some are just becoming radicalised as they watch what is happening around us. Sometimes the instinct of more seasoned activists is to silence or push them out, insisting they are not ready, they will get in the way, or they are too late. It is often a protective measure. We do not want to see the work go to waste and we do not want movements to be co-opted.

Locking people out, however, is the result of leading with fear. It may be completely reasonable to have concerns about people’s intentions, especially when they come to a cause like Black liberation at a time like this, but we always need more people. Those of us who have been here before have the responsibility to help newcomers to learn, practice, correct mistakes, be open to new information, share ideas and bring more people. We cannot do it alone.

There has to be space in movements for newcomers and that space has to be actively created. We can easily pinpoint organisations with leaders who have refused, over many years, to train other people for leadership and ensure the continuity of the work.

The newcomers do not need to immediately become leaders, but they need to be welcomed and have a place to learn, work and grow. They need to have access to information, be connected with supporters, get experience with the media, know how to plan events, and understand the history and the trajectory of the movement.

It all starts with letting them in. They may come late, they may come full of emotion, they may come with more passion than know-how and they may come with ideas counter to what has already been decided, but they come. They come with much-needed energy. Let them in, let them see, let them do.

One day, the leaders we know now will be gone and there will still be work to do. There will be progress and there will be successors if we understood movements need more people.

Published by The Tribune on June 17, 2020.

In last week’s discussion on racism and injustice, we took a look at some of the responses to the Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. and thought critically about their usefulness. When is an action or response appropriate, and when it is inappropriate? Which actions are we uncertain about? What lessons can we learn from failed responses and successful responses? Check out the video, varied thoughts about specific actions, and ways to assess our idea before we take action.

In the coming weeks, I will be hosting a discussion series with young people in the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust (QCT) network about the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S., racism and injustice in Commonwealth countries, solidarity, allyship, and the work to eradicate racism. These conversations are often difficult to have, but they are necessary, and there is a lot for us to learn from each other. In this first conversation, Izzy, Mike, and I ask broad questions to give us a sense of how everyone is feeling, what people are thinking about, and which topics we need to focus on exploring in upcoming sessions.