chapter  8
22 Pages

Commonwealth(s) and poverty/inequality: Contributions to global governance/development


This chapter suggests that the definition and reduction of poverty and inequality can be advanced in both conceptualization and realization through attention to the Commonwealth nexus. Whilst both inter-and non-governmental dimensions of the Commonwealth have been downplayed, even overlooked, in terms of “global development,” their very marginality may yet be judged a plus in terms of efficaciousness. The Commonwealths, plural, have much to contribute to the formulation and implementation of “global governance.” The inter-and non-state anglophone Commonwealths have always

been concerned about national and global poverty and inequality, from vertical to horizontal. The establishment and evolution of the Commonwealth Secretariat and Foundation were a function of initially “nationalist” then “liberation” movements. They now focus on good governance to advance human development/rights/security. The Commonwealth

was closest to being an “epistemic community” in its opposition to the apartheid regime during its first quarter-century. Now it advances democratic governance and multicultural understanding to contain poverty and inequality and to minimize escalation toward violence, symbolized by the representative and innovative Commissions headed by Manmohan Singh and Amartya Sen respectively in the first decade of the new century (Commonwealth, 2003; 2007b). In so doing, it has advanced from a familiar preoccupation with vertical inequalities to a novel concern with horizontal inequalities as reflected by Frances Stewart (2008). The evolution of poverty and inequality realities and discourses in the Commonwealth over its first four decades both reflect but also somewhat anticipate global shifts. Commonwealth political economies now span the emerging economies

(Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, BRICS, and the newlyindustrializing countries, NICs)—fragile states divide in the new century with implications for the incidence of and response to poverty and inequality. They also include major and minor non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and multinational corporations (MNCs) in “triangular” forms of local to global governance. And they have always embraced multicultural/racial/religious communities, especially in centers of migration like Australia, Canada, South Africa and the UK as well as India, Singapore and the like. The Manmohan Singh Commission called for enhanced collaboration among states and international agencies, companies, and civil societies (Commonwealth, 2003: 69), while the Amartya Sen Commission advocated recognition of multiple roles, identities, and communities to advance multilateralism (Commonwealth, 2007b: 13-14); for instance, the former treated more familiar vertical inequalities, the latter the less familiar horizontal ones. Meanwhile, heterogeneous “mixed actor coalitions” have responded creatively to a range of novel development challenges as exemplified by the Kimberley Process (KP) to stem the flow of conflict diamonds, and the Commonwealth has been the primary advocate of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), whether “vulnerable” or “resilient” (Cooper and Shaw, 2009). At the end of this chapter, I introduce useful comparative typologies of such burgeoning global coalitions into which the Commonwealth cases can be situated. Both inter-and non-state Commonwealths have continuously made

direct responses to inequality and poverty, from early advocacy of anti-apartheid to SIDS and now onto democratic governance and antifundamentalisms along with indirect support for contemporary networks around parallel issues such as the KP. In turn, this entails an evolution from a popular and uncontroversial focus on vertical inequalities to

less familiar and higher-risk recognition of horizontal inequalities. These parallel a trend away from post-colonial and towards post-bipolar emphases, especially in the twenty-first century. The earlier, immediate post-twentieth century Manmohan Singh Commission advocated more collaboration among four distinct types of global actors (Commonwealth, 2003) to transcend vertical inequalities. By contrast, the more recent Amartya Sen Commission advanced multiple roles and multilateralism to enhance civil paths to peace in both recognizing and ameliorating horizontal inequalities (Commonwealth, 2007b). But before it concludes, this chapter also identifies issues over which minimal international progress has been made by contrast to relatively efficacious, albeit diverse, coalitions around SIDS and the KP.