A Report for FIRS by Stacy Bragger
SB: On todays programme my guest will be MLA Mike Summers. MLA Summers has just returned from Africa where he attended the Annual General meeting of the Commonwealth Games federation in his role as Chairman of the Falkland Islands Overseas Games Association. He also held discussions with the Governments of Tanzania and South Africa to promote the Falklands message of self-determination. MLA Summers says that the CGF AGM was very interesting.
MS: The annual general meeting of the Commonwealth Games Association (CGF) was in Kampala, Uganda, so I went to that; and it was a very interesting meeting from our perspective because there is a big review going on of the Commonwealth Games Federation and the way it does its work. And I think there are some really interesting possibilities for the Falklands in terms of future development. We will be talking to the sports community about it. And we also planned for Glasgow 2014. And thats pushing forward and we will have information relatively soon about the Queens Baton relay coming to the Falklands as it did previously so thats quite interesting.
SB: So there might be developments that will be beneficial to the Falklands teams?
MS: Yes. One of the key outcomes from the review was that the CGF may become more involved in sport development and capacity development really based on the work that was done by Canada and supported by the CGF; but to get sport development more widely pushed out into those regions that require it. I think for us there are quite interesting possibilities.
SB: Then you moved on to hold some meetings on behalf of the Falkland Islands Government. Would you tell me about those please?
MS: From Kampala I went to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. The reason for visiting Tanzania is that its a member of the C-24. It hasnt had a conspicuous record in the past having spoken about the Falklands and I wanted to understand on behalf of Members why it was that Tanzania hadnt spoken and to put some points of view to them about how they can approach the issue that makes it easier for them. A lot of countries find it very difficult to support the United Kingdom or Argentina in a dispute that they know little about. And certainly a lot of African and we know Caribbean Territories find it difficult to support the United Kingdom in an issue that has colonial connotations to it however much we may say we are not a colony. What we can do when we talk to these people and go on these visits is to say to them that they dont have to see it in terms of supporting the United Kingdom any more than you see it as supporting Argentina. What you are doing is supporting the people of the Falkland Islands and their fundamental human right. That makes it very much easier for them; and thats an argument we can put as members of the assembly. Thats not easy for UK Diplomats to put.
What you tend to find when you go to places like Tanzania is that there is a very skimpy understanding of the issues in the first place and they shy away from having to take sides, given the opportunity of not actually having to take sides but it is a human rights issue and they can support that. And the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tanzania listened very intently and nodded at appropriate times but you dont know until you get to the next C-24 meeting whether anything will actually change.
SB: But it can do no harm to offer these perspectives to these countries?
MS: It does a great deal of good, I think. We made the front page of newspapers in Tanzania. It is pretty extraordinary really, I dont suppose the Falklands have ever been on the front page of a Tanzanian newspaper before and I dont think we will ever will again.
But actually, the media there were quite interesting and we had to be a little careful in Tanzania because Zanzibar, which is part of the United Republic of Tanzania is an Island offshore of Tanzania. They came together many years ago. Zanzibar is now thinking about becoming independent. It has reserves of natural gas around and is quite a busy little place with lots going on. They think they might like to be independent. So Tanzanians are a bit jumpy at the concept of self-determination on a broad basis because it would have implications for the Union between Zanzibar and Tanzania. You have to be careful about some of these things. When you get there youve got to understand the situation and that gives you a line about how to approach it.
SB: And then you held similar discussions in South Africa?
MS: Yes. I went to both Cape Town and Johannesburg and to Pretoria and had some interesting meetings there. Again, I had quite a long meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Their position on the Falklands is that they are completely and utterly neutral studiously neutral much like the United States. But having heard the argument from a different perspective having heard it from us and having heard it in the way that I described it earlier in terms of presenting it that they are not supporting the United Kingdom. They would not support the United Kingdom but they would come out and support the people of the Falkland Islands. They have taken to that argument and I think it is worthwhile putting that to South Africa, which is the big political powerhouse in Southern Africa. And people do listen to the South Africans. They are not members of the C-24 but if this issue comes up they are in a much better position to deal with it.
What does matter a little more in terms of South Africa is that there was a meeting fairly recently of American Defence Ministers. Argentina likes to promote this idea of a zone of peace and rattles on about militarisation in the Falklands. Its important just to touch base with the South Africans about that because they, too, are a coastal state of the South Atlantic and have an interest in these things. We need to make sure they properly understand where all that is coming from and what its about.
SB: And did they take that on-board?
MS: They did very much so. I got a very good hearing at the MFA in South Africa. I was very content with the discussions we had and the conclusions that we reached.
SB: I would like to touch on the Military exercises and the militarism of the South Atlantic. Were you surprised about Argentinas complaint about this?
MS: Weve seen it all before. We see it every year- or at least in the past 2 or 3 years. There is a huge amount of rhetoric but with little factual base in it. Nobody listens much to it and it has no practical effect. I think it is for home consumption to demonstrate to people at home (Argentina) that the President is making a big noise but luckily it doesnt have an affect here.
SB: Just one other matter; there has been tension and press reports about various changes to the British Antarctic Survey in the future and a merger with other organisations. Would there be any concern if there were something as symbolic as a name change if the British part of BAS was dropped?
MS: It does matter to us. There are many who will remember that one of the triggers for the invasion in 82 was the proposed withdrawal of the guard ship at the time. If you get the symbolism of the things that you do wrong, whether they are for administrative reasons or for scientific reasons or whatever if you get the symbolism wrong if you get the presentation of it wrong, people may take it the wrong way.
I happen to think that maintaining the British content of British Antarctic Survey is important. It may be less important to the scientific community generally which tends to co-operate on a multinational basis, which is good, but for us in the Falklands, which is what we care about, the maintenance of that British tag, I think is important. We certainly will be lobbying. We received today a formal consultation notice but we will certainly be putting our views on that and will make them clearly understood as I am sure they will be by the Foreign Office in their representations in Cabinet on the issue.
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