Gambias exit from the Commonwealth raises questions about the organisations relevance
Given its reputation as a harmless vestige of the once-sprawling British empire,it was somewhat startling when Gambias president,Yahya Jammeh,decried the Commonwealth as a neocolonial institution and announced his nations exit from the 54-member club. It has been suggested that Britains strained relationship with Jammeh he has accused it of aiding his political opponents and its criticism of his human rights record might have contributed to the decision. Yet,Gambias withdrawal,the first since Robert Mugabe pulled Zimbabwe out a decade ago,also raises questions over the Commonwealths relevance.
For the general public in many of the Commonwealths member countries,the most consequential aspect of membership is the athletic games held every four years. At a time when international organisations appear to be proliferating,from the BRICS to the G-20,the Commonwealth is caught in an existential crisis over its role. Its operations are constrained by its small budget and staff. It cannot substantially support development programmes,and most member countries rely on it only for minimal technical assistance.
The Commonwealths primary value lies in its utility in projecting soft power. Some countries believe being part of a large bloc of nations improves their negotiating ability,which might explain why non-colonies like Rwanda and Mozambique have joined the group. The Commonwealth has also fashioned itself as a promoter of democracy and human rights in member states,suspending members to punish violations to its charter,such as between 1999 and 2004,when Pakistan was suspended after Pervez Musharrafs coup. But increasingly,such sanctions have little effect,indication of how weak the institution has become.