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By ILIESA TORA
Kigali, RWANDA – June 22, 2022: 7.15am (Nuku’alofa Times): The Commonwealth People’s Forum started here in Kigali, Rwanda with calls that we need to act now for the future of our Commonwealth.
Our planet and its people are facing challenges that we have never faced before.
“We need much better ideas and more powerful, diverse voices to properly hold oursevles, our governments and all those who exercise power to account,” the Director of the Commonwealth Foundation, Dr Anne T Gallagher AO said in her opening remarks.

She said the Commonwealth is unique in so many ways.

Guests and speakers at the People’s Forum with Dr Anne. Photo: ILIESA TORA/Nuku’alofa Times

And she called on participants not to forget that the Commonwealth Charter begins with those fine and stirring words: ‘We the people’.

She said the theme – Our Health, Our Planet, Our Future – focused on people.

“This is a radical idea that the Commonwealth has brought to life – not just through through the Foundation – but also through a tapestry of personal and institutional connections that bind people and societies together,” she said.

“And this is where the Peoples Forum comes in.  Many intergovernmental meetings now have some kind of civil society track so perhaps we are not especially unique in that regard. But what sets the Forum apart is, once again, the place that civil society – that people – occupy within our Commonwealth. It is because the people are critical to the Commonwealth’s identity that the Peoples Forum is so important.”

Dr Anne said their work is “to reach out and listen to Commonwealth civil society”.

And the message coming back is clear: that we need much better ideas, and more powerful diverse voices, to properly hold ourselves our governments and all those who exercise power to account.

“We need the voices and ideas that will lead the transformation of systems and attitudes that entrench inequality and that marginalise so many of our fellow human beings,” she stated.

“So, the Peoples Forum 2022 has set itself the task of asking – and trying to answer – the big important questions of our age.

  • How do we harness the best of humanity – the forces of love, compassion, equality, and justice to advance our common future and protect our planet?
  • How do we confront the exclusion that eats away at the legitimacy of our political, economic and social systems?
  • How do we build and sustain the institutions that will secure the kind of governance capable of delivering for all of us: not just for those who, through the fortune of birth, geography, gender, good health or any other blessing, are already abundant in wealth and power?

“And critically, for all of us here, what role could the Commonwealth of Nations play in shaping the kind of world we want to leave behind? This is not just a question for the Presidents and Prime Ministers who are beginning to gather in Kigali.

“If we believe this is an organisation that belongs to the people, not just the Member States, it is us and our organisations that must stand up and become part of the solution. We need to point out what’s wrong. But we also need to work together, and with the Member States, to build a Commonwealth that is fit for the future.”

Dr Anne said the world will not wait too long for us to cast off our old, tired ways.

“A new social contract: one based on a shared commitment to inclusive, accountable governance may be the only protection on offer against the threats that are likely to kill us, destroy our freedoms or compromise the future of our planet. Let’s take up this challenge – and run with it as hard and as fast as we can.”

Interesting calls were made by health experts during the opening session on ‘Building Resilient and Equitable National Health Systems’.

There were challenges shared during the ‘Climate Justice and Leadership for Change in the Commonwealth’ as discussions focused on the effects of climate change being felt throughout the Commonwealth.
‘Health and Climate: Meeting the Immediate Challenge of Financing’ looked at response to the health and economic effects of recent and ongoing crises and the rising debt levels as countries borrow more to pay off the cost of recovery.
The big challenge is how recommendations from this Forum will make it to the table when the leaders discuss the issues.
But there is no denying the fact that time to act is now.
For our people, our planet and our health.
* The Commonwealth Foundation is supporting the coverage of CHOGM2022

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