Goodbye to all that
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Gambia's exit from the Commonwealth raises questions about the organisation's relevance
Given its reputation as a harmless vestige of the once-sprawling British empire, it was somewhat startling when Gambia's president, Yahya Jammeh, decried the Commonwealth as a "neocolonial institution" and announced his nation's exit from the 54-member club. It has been suggested that Britain's strained relationship with Jammeh — he has accused it of aiding his political opponents — and its criticism of his human rights record might have contributed to the decision. Yet, Gambia's withdrawal, the first since Robert Mugabe pulled Zimbabwe out a decade ago, also raises questions over the Commonwealth's relevance.
For the general public in many of the Commonwealth's member countries, the most consequential aspect of membership is the athletic games held every four years. At a time when international organisations appear to be proliferating, from the BRICS to the G-20, the Commonwealth is caught in an existential crisis over its role. Its operations are constrained by its small budget and staff. It cannot substantially support development programmes, and most member countries rely on it only for minimal technical assistance.