The Commonwealth

Kavindya Thennakoon's open letter to Commonwealth institutions

We are a group of young people hailing from several commonwealth countries. Many of us have engaged with the various arms of the commonwealth in various capacities; some of us as Queen’s Young Leaders, others as Royal Commonwealth Associates, Commonwealth Youth Council Members, and supporters of the movement.

We write to you with a series of requests and suggestions on how we believe the commonwealth as an entity should acknowledge and speak about our shared histories of colonial conquest and the pain, suffering, and subjugation our nations and people have been subjected to. The remnants of this past still persist today in the forms of racism, xenophobia, colorism, cycles of aid dependency and how ideas, standards and agendas within every field from education to design, from global health to technology are often grounded in colonial ways of understanding the world. We recognize the power and the incredible opportunities that the Commonwealth possess to shift this narrative; to not only acknowledge our painful histories but to gradually dismantle these oppressive systems that still remain today.

We believe that young people from the Commonwealth should take the lead in crafting the narratives that will determine the future of the Commonwealth and more importantly have a stake in how our collective histories are written down, remembered and portrayed. We invite you to consider our following requests as first steps in starting a conversation and are more than happy to engage with you on how we can work together to ensure that new generations of Commonwealth Citizens can contribute to a shared future that acknowledges its past and is proud to strengthen its ties for the benefit of all.

1. Revisit the websites associated with the Commonwealth and ensure that the introduction to the Commonwealth includes a brief yet succinct summary of the birth of the Commonwealth to reflect the impact of colonialism on our nations and our brave struggles for independence. For example, the historical timeline on the Commonwealth website speaks of the years that different countries joined the Commonwealth however, we believe that what is most significant to us is that these years reflect our individual victories of a struggle for independence by our ancestors. An erasure of which should be avoided.

2. Many of the events that we have attended that are sponsored and/or supported by The Commonwealth rarely have any mention of our shared history of colonial rule. We urge you to make a cognizant effort to ensure the acknowledgment of this shared history without which The Commonwealth would not have come into existence. We highlight a few best practices set by initiatives like Leading Change and Alt-Commons that have demonstrated openness to these conversations.

3. We encourage you to think about the need to have individuals from the Commonwealth countries at all decision-making positions within The Commonwealth and its affiliated/ sponsored entities to ensure that policies and programs are created by us, for us. By doing so to no limit these opportunities to those who have the privilege of time and resources to engage in national and global youth governance programmes.

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