Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Queen, I know, would want me to thank you most warmly for those kind words and sentiments. Her Majesty will be most touched and grateful and, I know, very much regrets that she is unable to join our gathering. She has asked me to pass on her special wishes to you all for every success in your discussions, as she has on so many occasions before, and you can imagine on my return I will report back.
For my part, you can have no idea how pleased I am that, after these recent years of separation, this is not a video meeting. Useful as all the technology may be, it is still a great joy to see you all in person here– and without the mute button to cause a certain amount of confusion!
I can only offer my most sincere thanks to you, President Kagame, for hosting us all, and giving us the chance to experience your extraordinary country. For my wife and myself it is particularly special to be here because Rwanda is one of the few members of the Commonwealth we had not, until now, managed to visit.
As I said earlier today, our Commonwealth family must have something fairly unique about it. After all, an increasing number of countries are seeking membership, with Mozambique and Cameroon having joined in the nineties and Rwanda in the noughties; and now, after a short pause, Togo and Gabon are on the path to membership, with others also expressing interest. Perhaps, Your Excellencies, they have discovered that the country with the highest percentage of female parliamentarians is in the Commonwealth (here in Rwanda as it happens); that the world’s fastest male and female runners (not to mention marathon world record-holders) are Commonwealth nationals; that Reggae, Calypso, Afrobeats, High-life, Hip-Life, Bollywood and Nollywood all originate from the Commonwealth; that the Commonwealth has given the world some of its finest dishes – curry, Jollof rice, maple syrup, Roti, Jerk chicken, Nasi Goreng and, dare I say, fish and chips! Or that the men’s and women’s Rugby world Champions and the ten highest ranked men and women’s cricket teams are – you’ve guessed it! – all from the Commonwealth. And, who knows, with a record six Commonwealth countries qualified for the world cup finals in November, perhaps football will be added to that impressive list… one can but dream!
In the meantime, I can only say that I am greatly looking forward to visiting Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games next month. In a world currently riven by conflict and division, these Games – so aptly called ‘the friendly games’ –stand as a shining celebration of our unity, our diversity and our pursuit of shared excellence. Your Excellencies, as you, as Leaders, champion these values, perhaps you would allow me to propose my own toast – which is to each and every one of you and you don't have to get up.