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RWA | Jun 24, 2022

Despite valiant effort, Kamina Johnson Smith’s campaign was doomed from the start

Gavin Riley

Gavin Riley / Our Today

administrator
Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith smiles after concluding day three of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali, Rwanda on June 22, 2022. (Photo: Twitter @KaminaJSmith)

Kamina Johnson Smith, the woman tipped to wrest the title of Commonwealth Secretary-General and usher in a new era of multinational cooperation, will now be forced to contemplate her next steps as the challenge to unseat Baroness Patricia Scotland has ended in defeat

Not giving the Andrew Holness-led administration room to breathe after the ‘shock defeat’, it’s time the Government and their die-hard supporters faced the truth: the campaign was doomed from the start. 

Okay, let’s pause for a moment here. 

I will first emphatically state that I’m not against the Foreign Affairs Minister’s bid to become the first Jamaican to be elected secretary-general of the 54-country strong organisation. 

With youth on her side, Johnson Smith is undoubtedly an astute stateswoman with several credentials that would have benefitted her well in this new role. 

But you see, that’s just about it. What else is there to say about this race outside of patriotism?

You may be asking ‘Well, how do YOU know this campaign was doomed from the start?’ and, at the onset, this was clear. 

Even amid secrecy, one can still review a timeline of events as detailed below:

The Jamaican Government announced its support for a Johnson Smith candidacy on April 1. 

In repeated statements since, the Holness administration said that it was approached by other countries to field a candidate, given disquieting rumblings over Scotland’s tenure. 

Johnson Smith’s challenge immediately sparked discord among member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)—the second-largest voting bloc in the Commonwealth after Africa. At the root of his contention, Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne argued that Jamaica’s surprise bid was a “monumental error”, hours after the announcement. 

This, he said at the time, was primarily due to the impression Jamaica had reneged on a decree to support Scotland’s re-election at the CARICOM Heads of Government in Belize earlier in March. 

In response, Holness, speaking in Parliament on April 6, claimed that the ‘CARICOM consensus’ was never unanimous and that the country had a right to pursue a bid as Scotland’s first term “left room for [a] challenge”, which Jamaica was actively considering in “recent weeks”.

At a post-Cabinet press conference earlier that same day, de facto Information Minister Robert Morgan told Our Today the Government was yet not in a position to comment or speculate on potential replacements for Johnson Smith in the foreign affairs ministry.

Robert Nesta Morgan, minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) with responsibility for information, addresses a post-Cabinet press briefing on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. (Photo: JIS)

As the weeks progressed, the Government sprinkled breadcrumbs of information as the country learned that Johnson Smith’s campaign was to be funded by taxpayers. 

CARICOM, splintered by the dual-candidacy, sought to meet with both Johnson Smith and Scotland but the sub-committee failed in this regard, effectively leaving individual member states to vote on the candidate of their choosing. 

The Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) Georgetown headquarters in Guyana. (Photo: CARICOM.org)

Then, in May, the endorsements started coming in, first through the Maldives and then (in chronological order) Singapore, India, United Kingdom, Belize and Trinidad and Tobago.

Most recently in interviews with British media, Johnson Smith maintained that she was not a ‘plant’ by the UK to boot out Scotland from the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Now, hear me out, nothing is wrong with being confident in Johnson Smith’s candidature, and it was heartening to see a delegation there supporting her.

However, with several extenuating circumstances at play, I feel the aura of ‘sure victory’ exuded by Holness and company was misplaced. 

Chief among my questions, I’d like the Government to answer: 

With little to no experience as a candidate in a political campaign, was Johnson Smith really the ‘best’ person Jamaica could have put forward?

Prime Minister Andrew Holness is shown something of interest by Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith, during the official opening and naming ceremony of the new headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade on Wednesday (January 19). The new headquarters, located at 2 Port Royal Street in downtown Kingston, was officially named ‘The Hugh Lawson Shearer Building’, in honour of the late former leader. (Photo: JIS)

Who launches a campaign less than two months before an election? 

What assurances did Jamaica get that emboldened this ‘last-minute’ challenge?

The campaigning of Johnson Smith in Africa goes against rhetoric by the Government that it was ‘sure’ of victory in Kigali. Does the Holness administration concede that Africa was indeed a spoke in its ‘election wheel’? Whatever happened to that ‘threshold’ for victory you spoke so eloquently of, as stated by you, Minister Morgan?

How does the Government justify spending tax dollars for a campaign with no tangible benefits to the country?

I think the most important question is: Now what, Johnson Smith?

Will you return to the Senate and to your role as leader of Government business in the Upper House?

Make no mistake, Johnson Smith’s challenge was an admirable one and must not be diminished in any way. To have gained 24 votes— coming three votes shy of beating Scotland—says a lot about Commonwealth countries’ confidence in the baroness’ tenure, for better or worse. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland and Britain’s Prince Charles attend the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kigali, Rwanda June 24, 2022. (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Pool via REUTERS)

I’ll go one further to add that the only ‘loser’ in this race is the Caribbean.

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