Commonwealth Week 2024: A resilient, slimmed-down affair. Photo shows Commonwealth Day flagbearers and Zoom panel at a Foundation webinar.Commonwealth flag bearers at Westminster Abbey. [Commonwealth Secretariat Flikr]. Inset shows panel for Commonwealth Foundation regional conversations webinar.

Resilience was the watchword at the 2024 Commonwealth Day Service of Celebration at Westminster Abbey. It would be difficult to compare this to the 2023 Service which, organised under the watchful eye of a new monarch, had been a fast-paced and lively affair, aimed at celebrating the Commonwealth Year of Youth.

In 2024, circumstances had changed. The UK monarch and Head of the Commonwealth, King Charles III, delivered a pre-recorded message from Windsor Castle where he is being treated for cancer. A slimmed-down royal presence at the Abbey was headed by the Queen, accompanied by the Prince of Wales, who was facing a morning of bad headlines over a family photo in the world press.

Still coming down from the 2023 Coronation spectacle, Westminster Abbey delivered the Commonwealth Day spectacle expected at such a venue. The focus was on the Commonwealth at 75. The London Declaration, seen by many as the start of the modern Commonwealth, was signed in 1949.

The ceremony itself benefitted from the early appearance of the dance troupe of homeless Ugandan children, the Ghetto Kids. Their enthusiasm and energy had all eyes, royal and otherwise, fixed on their performance. Their appearance indicated why the young dancers have become a viral social media phenomenon and the darlings of both the Britain and Americas Got Talent programmes.

There were also performances by Canadian pianist Spencer Klymyshyn, New Zealand soprano and baritone duo Isabella Moore and Benson Wilson and Nigeria poet and novelist Sir Ben Okri.

In his video message, King Charles reflected on what he called the “remarkable journey” the Commonwealth had made to its 75th anniversary. “Having recently celebrated my own 75th birthday, it warms my heart to reflect on the way the Commonwealth has been a constant throughout my own life – a precious source of strength, inspiration, and pride,” the King said.

He spoke of the growth of the Commonwealth, saying “The Commonwealth family is strongest when we are connected, through friendship. As I have said before, the Commonwealth is like the wiring of a house, and its people, our energy and our ideas are the current that runs through those wires”.

The ceremony was bookmarked by the arrival and departure of the flags of the 56 Commonwealth member states. A look at the shiny, proud faces of the young flagbearers in the Abbey provided a reminder that the modern Commonwealth is about the 60% of its membership who are under the age of 30.


The word ‘resilience’ echoed in every message. The next Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) will take place in Samoa – the first Commonwealth summit in the Pacific. Samoan Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mata’afa announced the 2024 theme ‘One Resilient Common Future: Transforming our Common Wealth’ at the last CHOGM. She said that the Apia summit would be “in the spirit of our Commonwealth Aiga (family in the widest sense) and guided by the fa’asamoa (the Samoan way of life) coming together to transform our one resilient family into a Common Wealth”. Writing for the Round Table website at the start of 2024 Commonwealth Week, Commonwealth veteran and editorial board member Stuart Mole said: ‘Resilience will also be necessary in reasserting the reputation, value and relevance of the Commonwealth as an instrument of soft power.’ Joseph Nye, who in 1990 popularised the concept, recently wrote that the turning away from soft power by governments reflected ‘their narrow time horizons rather than a secular decline in the importance of soft power.’


Against the backdrop of the official events of Commonwealth Week, the challenge of finding a new venue for the 2026 Commonwealth Games rumbled on. Malaysian newspapers reported that the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) had offered the Olympics Council of Malaysia £100m to host the next Games. The Australian media reported that the CGF offer had tapped into the money paid out by the Australian state of Victoria to pull out of its 2026 hosting commitment. Over the week, Malaysian officials and media weighed in on the merits and possible pitfalls in taking up the mantle. Melbourne’s Herald Sun said: ‘Almost (Aus)$200m that Victorians forked out to dump the Commonwealth Games may soon be handed over to the Malaysian government if the country signs on to host the event.’

The current edition of the Round Table Journal had earlier published an article exploring options to keep the Commonwealth Games viable; Canada has already pulled out of hosting the 2030 event.

Time for a new Commonwealth Games?

The will-it-won’t-it-happen discussion over of the Games’ future was just one more item on the long list of challenges facing Commonwealth countries as they also came together during the week to discuss ongoing priority issues.

Climate and health justice

Commonwealth Day might attract some public attention but a number of other meetings take place during what has become Commonwealth Week.

One of the largest audiences attended a 14 March Commonwealth Foundation webinar, held as part of its Regional Conversations in the countdown to the People’s Forum, scheduled for Samoa in October. The Foundation’s Regional Conversation on climate justice, health justice and freedom of expression consisted of moderator Maria Sarungi Tsehai, a Tanzanian journalist and activist known for her online campaign “Change Tanzania”.  Panellists were Herman Grech (Editor-in-Chief, Times of Malta), Lillian Mworeko (Executive Director of Women in HIV, Uganda) and Mauritius-based climate activist and marine biologist, Shaama Sandooyea.

The gathering of Commonwealth civil society activists discussed the need for collaboration to get the message across on shared issues. “Human rights will never be given to us on a silver platter,” Lillian Mworeko said. She called for a “movement that is beyond borders”. Shaama Sandooyea said that there was a gap between the understanding of climate science and its integration into government and business policy. She said that deliberations over climate justice meant including “the people … for the people” and not governments and the private sector alone. Herman Grech, whose newspaper had taken the impetus from the 2017 assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia for its Panama Papers collaboration, said his additional work as a playwright showed the role of collaborating with the arts and the need for journalists to talk to all parts of society.

Panellists and breakout discussion groups agreed on a common theme of collaboration and the need to hold governments to account on the issues of climate justice, health justice and freedom of expression. The Commonwealth Foundation Critical Conversations series continues online in the countdown to CHOGM in Samoa.

In a way, the Foundation webinar discussion echoed the words of the Head of the Commonwealth at the start of the week. As civil societies called for connectivity, King Charles had said on Monday: “All of this means that we must work together to understand each other’s perspectives, including the inequalities and injustices which still resonate to this day. We must find ways of healing, and to support each other to pursue solutions. I cannot say often enough that it is by coming together that we create the best chances to improve our world and the lives of people everywhere.”

Debbie Ransome is the web editor for the Commonwealth Round Table.


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The London Declaration, 1949

Resilience, anniversaries and Commonwealth Day

Commonwealth Foundation – People’s Forum: An online discussion for civil society

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