It will be a defining week for Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith as she attempts to unseat incumbent Commonwealth Secretary General Baroness Patricia Scotland, who has held the position since 2016.
Johnson Smith has acquitted herself well as an Andrew Holness loyalist and foreign affairs minister. She has won plaudits as legal counsel for telecoms giant Flow. An important part of the narrative of her story is that she is the daughter of one of the finest legislators and diplomats that Jamaica has produced – Anthony Johnson.
One can imagine the urbane Ambassador Johnson lounging on a cloud, harp in hand, wry smile playing around his lips, looking down approvingly upon his daughter’s accomplishments.
But the cauldron of Jamaican politics is a far less gentile matter. Kamina Johnson Smith appears somewhat too delicate, too refined for the bruising battles fought in that arena. The Senate is somewhat more tranquil and less of a mad house. Besides, one can hardly see her getting her elegant Manolo Blahnik shoes muddied on a weekly basis in some ghastly constituency or eating a fried fish on a stoop which she lends an air to complaints from flustered constituents.
The post of Commonwealth Secretary General is a natural progression from her current role and, if she plays her cards right, she can hold the position for the better part of a decade.
It’s a high stakes game. With Prime Minister Andrew Holness championing her candidacy and proclaiming her qualities and qualifications, he must make the calculation and see to it that she wins.
It was already agreed that Baroness Scotland would be CARICOM’s standard bearer and that she would seek re-election unopposed. Jamaica has changed all that and now there is a clear schism in the 15-state Caribbean bloc which has only turned up existing tensions.
We in Jamaica will be getting behind Kamina Johnson Smith, and not simply because of national pride but also because sensible people regard her as a worthy candidate who is capable of doing a good job.
FACE OFF COULD BE TENSE
The face-off between Johnson Smith and Baroness Scotland could be tense and the loser will have to go away and lick their wounds, remaining in isolation for some time. Winner takes all.
The Commonwealth consists of 54 independent member states. Most of them were formerly ruled by the British, although Mozambique, which joined in 1995, and Rwanda, which joined in 2009, do not share that historical link to the United Kingdom. There are 19 Commonwealth states in Africa, eight in Asia, three in Europe (including Cyprus and Malta, which are both also members of the European Union), 13 in the Caribbean and the Americas and 11 in the Pacific.
They vary widely in size and population. The majority of Commonwealth members (32) are classified as small states with populations of under 1.5 million. By contrast, India – the most populous Commonwealth state – has 1.4 billion citizens. Of the 2.5 billion people who live in the Commonwealth, over half are based in India.
In 2021, the combined GDP of all Commonwealth countries was estimated to be US$13.1 trillion.
In order to win, a contestant must carry many countries from both the Caribbean and Africa with a few from Asia.
It is no easy task to get a disparate group of nations to come over to your side. Baroness Scotland should have spent the last two years garnering support for a second term. She may have considered it a shoe-in that could prove to be a big mistake.
The chairman of the Commonwealth is British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who wants to see the back of Baroness Scotland. Incompatible personalities, different sides of the political divide, procurement breaches, contracts given to friends, profligate spending on accommodation have all been cited as reasons why the former British Attorney-General is unfit and must be replaced with a more compliant Commonwealth Secretary General. Furthermore, funding of close to £5 million to the Secretariat from Britain was suspended and continues to be questioned.
Boris Johnson has mounted a campaign to get other members to dump Baroness Scotland. Already Singapore, India, the Maldives, Belize and Trinidad & Tobago have pledged their support to Kamina Johnson Smith while Antigua and (her home country) Dominica have come out supporting the Baroness. She has some ground to make up.
She has been astute in enticing the African nations by pledging support for the next Secretary General after her tenure to come from that continent. The question is has she done enough to convince them that she warrants a second term?
Prime Minister of Antigua Gaston Browne has made the point that having a dog fight between two candidates from the region again exemplifies how fractious and divided CARICOM is and, once against demonstrates that it is incapable of coming together to get anything meaningful accomplished.
This is a contest between two highly qualified and accomplished Caribbean women and it is a pity that one will return home from Kigali, Rwanda a loser.
Baroness Patricia Scotland became Britain’s youngest female QC at 35 and has served as a minister in the Foreign Office, Home Office and Lord Chancellor’s Department as well as being a Prime Ministerial Trade Envoy.
At a time when the Caribbean needs leadership on fiscal issues, social cohesion, climate change, energy sustainable and a host of other issues, it is a pity that both these women will not be able to combine their abilities for the Caribbean’s greater good – instead they will face each other daggers drawn.
If Kamina Johnson Smith should return from Rwanda triumphant, that bodes well and Jamaica will have its first Commonwealth Secretary General who will do the country and indeed the collection of states she represents proud.
If she jets back defeated, her confidence may very well be sapped. Does she then return to her duties as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade or will her loss be so ignominious that she will have to warm the bench in the Senate and await a position.
There is talk that the Prime Minister could recall Audrey Marks from Washington and that she would be a suitable replacement for Johnson Smith. Then again, you have someone like Gordon Shirley who would make a fantastic Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.
Kamina Johnson Smith may well have to be patient, biding her time to snag a big position at one of the multilateral agencies, or the UN.
What could also happen is that Malahoo Forte could be shifted to the Ministry of Justice with Johnson Smith focus on getting Jamaica ready to become a Republic by taking the Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs portfolio as a Senator. Delroy Chuck may well think it is too early to retire to the Senate and, besides, he is still capable of holding his constituency seat over the next two general elections at least, thus making him a most valuable personage for the Jamaica Labour Party.
Holness will have to scratch his head as he thinks about finding a suitable position for Kamina Johnson Smith, should she come up short.
Now that headache can be avoided if he sees to it that she wins and becomes the next Commonwealth Secretary General.