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Brian Olley

British High Commissioner, Cameroon

Part of UK in Camaroon

11th March 2015 Yaounde, Cameroon

Commonwealth Week: Shared values, shared future

A third of the world’s population are members of the Commonwealth’s 53 countries. This week as we celebrate what the Commonwealth means today, in 2015, it is worth reflecting what benefit we gain from being a member ? And what even those who are not members can gain ? How relevant is the Commonwealth to a 16 year old growing up somewhere in the world today ?

The theme for this year is ‘A Young Commonwealth’ and as described in the Queen’s Commonwealth Day Message what we share through being members of the Commonwealth is more important and worthy of protection, now, than perhaps at any other time in the Commonwealth’s existence.

The power of youth is rising, due in part to the tools we all now have through social media and the ever increasing power and availability of information technology, mobile phones and the internet. This revolution over the past decade has transformed not just the availability of information to the young, but also the ability of youth to shape events. Human rights abuses that went unnoticed and unreported a few years ago, are now flashed around the world in moments. We have millions of pictures, videos, messages and discussions available at a touch of a button.

This stunning availability of infomation should be good, but it places on us at the same time the potential for us to misunderstand, to misjudge, to jump to the wrong conclusion. Few situations are simple: bad versus evil, good people against bad people. Injustices, history, language, religion, tradition, freedom of expression, different values, jealousy and self interest complicate choices. We see how easy it is for young people to become radicalised by those who wish to misinterpret facts, to stir up anger and recruit those who later either become blind to the terrible acts they commit, or who regret their choices, but too late as they are bullied into carrying on down the path of evil and violence.

The choices and the pressures on the young today are greater than ever. The constant bombardment of activist groups putting forward their interpretation of the facts. What guidance can the young find to help them plot their path through this bewildering forest ? The Commonwealth values have been agreed – sensitive to the huge diversity of its members, taking into account every major religion, from every continent, countries big (India with 1.2 billion people) and small (Tuvalu with 10,000). The Commonwealth values provide a moral compass, a guide through the maze confronting young people. They are a link to the experience of many, many people, who have confronted terrible crises, terrible famines, terrible wars. The Commonwealth values are above religion and above individual self interest. They are truly global.

Of course we cannot always live up to the Commonwealth values. Some individuals fail. Some countries fail. But if we keep the values in sight as our goal we know we are heading in the right direction. Not a bad compass for the youth of today.