The Prime Minister of UK, Boris Johnson, of Friday, delivered his final remarks as chair-in-office of The Commonwealth, at the official opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit (CHOGM 2022) in Kigali.
In Kigali, he will handover the baton to President Paul Kagame, the incoming chair-in-office for the next two years. In his remarks, the British Premier touched on a number of issues, including the effects of Covid-19 on the populations in the Commonwealth countries, the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on food supply systems and the urgent need to support efforts for the education of the girl child. Below are the full remarks.
Your Royal Highnesses
Madam Secretary General
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am honoured to perform the final duty of the United Kingdom, as chair-in-office of The Commonwealth and handover the baton to President Kagame. I wish him every success as chair of our unique association, encompassing 54 countries and a third of humanities.
One of our newest members is now at the helm and more nations are seeking to join which tells you everything you need to know about the health and vitality of our Commonwealth because for all the differences between us, we are united by an invisible thread of shared values, history and friendship.
The head of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty, The Queen incarnates everything that brings us together and it’s fitting that in the year of her Platinum Jubilee, the association she cherishes should be gathering in the continent where she became Queen.
When the UK became your chair-in-office in 2018, the word COVID had not been invented. Many of us have no idea what the Coronavirus was and nobody could have known the worst pandemic for a century would soon claim millions of lives.
The British government put together the partnership between Oxford University and AstraZeneca that produced the world’s most popular vaccine and during our time as chair-in-office, the UK supported the delivery of more than 1.4 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Commonwealth countries.
The pandemic posed a common threat to all humanity and the same is true of catastrophic climate change. No one understands this better than our Commonwealth friends in the Caribbean, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, who could see the incoming tide surging ever higher up their beaches, threatening to inundate their villages and towns and in time, the entire land mass of some Island states.
So, then the baleful effects of climate change [vague] or theoretical, are already happening before their eyes. When we hosted cop 26, in Glasgow, last November, it was these fellow Commonwealth leaders who spoke with the greatest of urgency and authority about the perils of quilting the Earth with greenhouse gases and we in the developed world have an obligation to help our friends to cope with a danger they had no hand in causing.
During the UK’s time, as chair-in-office, the Commonwealth Finance Access Hub mobilized over $38 million dollars for the most vulnerable members but of course, we must press on and do more. And if I could imagine a silver bullet that would solve an array of problems and transform countless lives, it would be to give every girl in the world the chance to go to school.
At the last CHOGM in London, in 2018, the UK announced 212 million pounds for the girl’s education challenge and I’m delighted to say that this initiative is now at work in 11 Commonwealth countries, ensuring the girls are able to gain at least 12 years of quality education.
We need to empower them to play their full part in the economy when they leave school. So, the UK is funding the SheTrades Commonwealth programme which has already helped over 3,500 women-owned businesses to become more competitive and generate more than 32 million Pounds worth of sales. And if there is anyone who doubts the ability of the Commonwealth to speak with one voice, it was in June 2020 that the UK delivered the first ever joint statement by all 54 Commonwealth members before the Human Rights Council in Geneva, recalling, and I quote, our proud history of acting to strengthen good governance and the rule of law.
One of the greatest affronts to everything we stand for is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Putin’s blockade of the ports that would otherwise be shipping food to the world’s poorest people.
At this moment, nearly 25 million tons of corn and wheat is piled up in silos across Ukraine, held hostage by Russia. Britain supports the United Nations plan to get that food out and we will invest over 370 million pounds in Global food security, this year including 130 million pounds for the World Food Program.
We want to work alongside our Commonwealth friends to understand your needs, your priorities and to deliver joint solutions to a crisis that Putin has deliberately engineered.
For now, it only remains for me to thank every Commonwealth member, for having given the United Kingdom the chance to serve as chair-in- office. And as I pass on this responsibility to President Kagame, a close friend, and a partner, I know that he shares my boundless optimism about the future of the Commonwealth at the forefront, the international agenda and benefiting all our peoples.
Thank you very much.