Your Majesties, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of The Queen, in this Platinum Jubilee Year, my wife and I are delighted to be with you all here in Rwanda for this 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
I would particularly like to thank President Kagame, and the people of Rwanda, for the most impressive preparations they have made. I know how difficult the decisions were to postpone this important gathering as a result of Covid and can only applaud Rwanda’s determination and patience in ensuring our gathering is successful.
Throughout her reign, The Queen has placed – and continues to place – the greatest importance on the common friendship, humanity and values that all of us share in this room, not despite but because of the diversity the Commonwealth represents. And I know how grateful she is that, in recognition of Her Majesty’s unstinting service to our Commonwealth Family, all Commonwealth Member States have announced that they have now committed themselves to The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy.
I treasure the friendships we have built over these past seventy years, and look forward to their deepening in the years ahead. As we build back from the pandemic that has devastated so many lives; as we respond to climate change and biodiversity loss that threatens our very existence; and as we see lives destroyed by the unattenuated aggression of violent forces… such friendships are more important than ever.
I take heart from the fact that, working together and with urgent intent, there is a path to build a future for humanity that is sustainable, prosperous and just.
Our Commonwealth family is – and will always remain – a free association of independent, self-governing nations. We meet and talk as equals, sharing our knowledge and experience for the betterment of all citizens of the Commonwealth – and, indeed, the wider world.
The Commonwealth contains within it countries that have had constitutional relationships with my Family, some that continue to do so, and increasingly those that have had none. I want to say clearly, as I have said before, that each member’s Constitutional arrangement, as Republic or Monarchy, is purely a matter for each member country to decide. The benefit of long life brings me the experience that arrangements such as these can change, calmly and without rancour. But, as I said in Barbados last November, we should never forget the things which do not change: the close and trusted partnership between Commonwealth members; our common values and shared goals; and, perhaps most importantly, the strong and enduring connections between the peoples of the Commonwealth which strengthen us all.
These shared values, goals and friendships transcend the ties of shared history, as we saw in welcoming Mozambique and Rwanda to this great family of nations. And now, coming to Rwanda for the first time, visiting the genocide memorial and speaking to survivors, I have been overwhelmed by the resilience, grace and determination of the Rwandan people.
Today, Rwanda upholds so much that is extraordinary: as a centre for innovation, a world leader in women’s empowerment, a growing hub for the green economy and a commitment to a united future.
As Leaders, you consider how to define and strengthen our own commitment to common purpose and, I would only offer you the view that our Commonwealth Family of some of the world’s most vulnerable and some of the world’s wealthiest nations, has the ability, indeed the obligation, to be a force for global public good – why else, ladies and gentleman, would an increasing number of countries want to join this Association?
In the diversity of the 2.6 billion people on whose behalf you speak, comes great strength, which you can use, for instance, to speak up for the values which bind us, to invest in a rapid transition to a sustainable future and to create opportunities for our young people.
I believe that the Commonwealth is uniquely positioned to achieve such positive change in our world. And in speaking to you over the years, I know you agree. Indeed, I can only applaud the focus you are bringing to supporting youth, business and civil society, not least through the Commonwealth professional associations of judges, teachers and midwives, to name but three.
I know the importance you attach to ensuring that support reaches the developing world and how important is the work you are undertaking to develop new approaches which take account of climate vulnerability to enable the better channelling of development assistance. I was also greatly heartened at yesterday’s Business Forum to see Commonwealth Leaders and global C.E.O.s, including from my Sustainable Markets Initiative, identifying practical solutions to these vital challenges.
To achieve this potential good, however, and to unlock the power of our common future, we must also acknowledge the wrongs which have shaped our past.
Many of those wrongs belong to an earlier age with different – and, in some ways lesser – values. By working together, we are building a new and enduring friendship. In Canada recently, my wife and I were deeply touched to meet many of those engaged in the ongoing process of reconciliation – indigenous and non-indigenous peoples reflecting honestly and openly on one of the darkest aspects of history. As challenging as that conversation can be, people across Canada are approaching it with courage and unwavering commitment, determined to lay a foundation of respect and understanding upon which a better future can be built.
It seems to me that there are lessons in this for our Commonwealth family. For while we strive together for peace, prosperity and democracy I want to acknowledge that the roots of our contemporary association run deep into the most painful period of our history. I cannot describe the depths of my personal sorrow at the suffering of so many, as I continue to deepen my own understanding of slavery’s enduring impact.
If we are to forge a common future that benefits all our citizens, we too must find new ways to acknowledge our past. Quite simply, this is a conversation whose time has come. Your Excellencies, conversations start with listening, and as The Queen said at our last meeting, the Commonwealth has always been and remains: "a global association... which believes in the tangible benefits that flow from exchanging ideas and experiences and respecting each other's point of view.”
Our ingenuity, knowledge and ideas, our courage and determination, are truly our “Common Wealth”. By unlocking our potential we can build a future in which all our people have a stake, ensuring that our Commonwealth Charter represents not just words on a page, but the lived experience of all. And, in so doing, we will equip our children and grandchildren to be agents of a better future.
Your Excellencies, if we are to leave the world better than when we found it – and that is our duty and our privilege – we must be bold with our ambition, decisive with our actions and united in our effort.
In this mission, I know Her Majesty The Queen stands with us all.