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“A youth view on deciding who heads CHOGM”
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“A youth view on deciding who heads CHOGM”

Did the announcement of HRH Prince Charles to succeed Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth influence how young people view the Commonwealth? Angelique Pouponneau, 27, a Commonwealth Correspondent from the Seychelles, reflects on the decision.

I was born in 1990 to the sovereign Republic of the Seychelles. I learned our history – having been a colony of both Great Britain and France with independence obtained in 1976 from the English.

As such, at the tender age of 4, I went to school and had to learn both English and French. My first memory of learning about the Commonwealth was annual celebrations of Commonwealth Day, and my first interaction was participating in the national inter-school Commonwealth quiz. At the age of 11, I had learned all its key facts – equal member States from the largest countries – India to the smallest – Nauru. It was now all general knowledge.

With aspirations of becoming a lawyer, the United Kingdom was where I wanted to study. There were many reasons for this; from the use of English as the language of instruction for teaching purposes, relatives who lived in the UK – I have fond memories of my great uncle who had participated in WWII on behalf of the Allies – and besides, the UK was known for some of the best universities globally. Was my view and way of thinking simply a legacy of the Commonwealth? Or perhaps, the British Empire?

Soon enough my aspirations became a reality. I earned a scholarship to study for a law degree. As a Seychellois student in the UK, I soon became involved with the Commonwealth, from attending Commonwealth Services at Westminster Abbey, bearing the Seychelles flag during the service, participating in the youth-led response to the post 2015 Agenda by Commonwealth youth, visits to Buckingham Palace to commemorate Commonwealth activities.

But other than an attendee of grand events, my active participation in the Commonwealth started in 2015 where I really learned about the nature of the Commonwealth. It was a voluntary association of equal member States committed to shared values with the Secretariat playing a pivotal role in providing technical assistance to countries on different priorities chosen and developed by the Board of Governors and Member States. I was subsequently elected to the position of vice-chairperson for inclusion and engagement of the Commonwealth Youth Council from 2015 to 2018 and finally, played a key role in the execution of the Commonwealth Youth Forum as the co-chair of the International Youth Taskforce.

I am now 27 years old and for the duration of my life, the Commonwealth has had one Head – Her Majesty the Queen. With Her Majesty reaching the age of 92, the question of who would be the next Head had been bouncing around for many months and it was unexpected, to me, that in 2018 the decision would be made. The news emerged that the Queen had asked for her son would be her successor.

Coming from Africa and a small island developing State, where we are often criticized for nepotism and corruption, the notion of a mother asking for her son to get a position reminded me of that continent that is so often criticized by others. Was it different because Prince Charles had visited many of the Member States, he was an advocate for sustainability which was important to many of the members of the Commonwealth and therefore, was automatically qualified for this task?

I have to disagree. Where was due process? Was it sufficient that the Heads endorsed the request at the Heads of Government meeting? Or was it simply telling of the intergenerational difference between the leadership of countries and the 60 per cent of people that they represent?

Many share my view. But today, we know that in short, we are not an association of equal nations. If we were equal, then why was it not proposed that another Head of State head the Commonwealth? Will I spend another lifetime viewing the Commonwealth headed by Great Britain (the colonial master)? Would it offend some countries in that space to have a former colony lead this organisation? It was even more telling that all this happened on British soil.

As a young person who aspires for my country to be respected on the international scene (a platform that the Commonwealth provided), and someone who can confidently say has been heavily involved with the Commonwealth and even an advocate for its importance and relevance, I now see this to be a questionable stance. With this decision, it certainly was a strong message to me as a young person that this is a remnant of the British Empire where leadership would never pass, but would only have soft wording which would act as comfort to the 2.4 billion people. I am willing to take bets that in 20 years’ time when HRH Prince Charles reaches the same age of his mother, we will be pressing the repeat button. Perhaps, the latest appointment of Prince Harry as a Commonwealth Youth Ambassador is setting the wheels in motion for that time.

To end on a positive note, once again, the power of the Commonwealth and its relevance lies with the Secretariat, immaterial of its flaws, providing technical assistance and the peoples who have built connections and bridges across regions.

Photo credit: Cassia Noelle Union Jack at Harrods. via photopin (license)

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About me: I am a barrister, advocating in all the Tribunals and Courts in the Seychelles. I am interested in sustainable development, the rule of law and international affairs.
I also support inclusive education systems so I volunteer at the School of the Hearing Impaired to teach English and Math. I would like to continue using education and the creation of opportunities for the advancement of young people, ensuring their voices are heard at national and international levels.
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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/
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