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Vol 23 No 3 March/April 2018

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Shridath Ramphal: The Commonwealth and the World: Essays in Honour of his 80th Birthday

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Edited by: Richard Bourne

ISBN13: 9781906190200
Published: December 2008
Publisher: Hansib Publications Limited
Country of Publication: UK
Format: Hardback
Price: £16.99

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This is a book of essays by people who know ‘Sonny’ well both from his work at the Commonwealth Secretariat, where he was Secretary-General for fifteen years, and in the wider world of international politics and diplomacy. Sonny’s accomplishments are described in the context of the political, economic and social circumstances in which he carried out his work; the book accordingly provides a useful historical record of the events in which Sonny was intimately involved. The essays are grouped in five sections: personal reflections, southern Africa, the Caribbean, the Commonwealth and the global citizen.

In his role as Secretary-General, Sonny was central in the negotiations and principal draftsman of what became the Lusaka Accord which led directly to the solution of the Rhodesian crisis with the establishment of Zimbabwe. (In so doing he made an enemy of Thatcher’s Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, Lord Carrington, who was later instrumental in denying Sonny the post of UN Secretary-General). His lesser though still important role in the various negotiations that led to the release of Nelson Mandela and the dismantlement of apatheid in South Africa is also recounted. (At his 80th birthday dinner held at the Royal Commonwealth Society on 6th October, Sonny was severely critical of the present situation in Zimbabwe, having worked so hard to bring in democratic, majority rule.)

In Caribbean affairs Sonny remains a committed federalist, having been centrally involved in drafting the planned independence constitution of the West Indies Federation back in 1961. His ‘acute disappointment’ at the collapse of the Federation did not lead to complete disillusionment in the possibility of Commonwealth Caribbean co-operation, and Sonny became a crucial player in coaxing the countries to pursue a course which led to the establishment of CARICOM. As Anthony Payne observes in his essay, despite its shortcomings, CARICOM remains ‘the custodian of the idea of West Indian nationhood.’

Sonny’s diplomacy was severely tested in the aftermath of the Grenada invasion (the events surrounding which are comprehensively narrated in Ron Sanders’s essay), nevertheless he was instrumental in the healing process between the two Caribbean factions, and, recognising the concerns of small states as to their vulnerability to a coup, appointed a group of eminent persons to produce a study of the problem. The resulting report, Vulnerability: Small States in the Global Society, became a seminal work, recognised in international forums.

Shortly before the end of his service as Commonwealth Secretary-General, Sonny was asked by the heads of CARICOM governments to lead a commission, comprising leading regional figures, with the brief to plot a future course for the region. After a great deal of work involving extensive travel to interview people of the region and in the West Indian diaspora, a report entitled Time for Action was duly published. Unsurprisingly, it was rejected by the heads of government, reluctant to see retired ex-leaders interfering in national affairs. One wonders why the heads of government had bothered to commission the study in the first place.

Also recognised is Sonny’s sterling work in serving on four international commissions (the only person to serve on all four): The Brandt Commission on trade and development, the Palme Commission on security, the Gro Harlem Brundtland Commission on the environment and development and (as co-Chair) the Ingvar Carsson commission on global governance.