Governance: A handy handbook

Our first publication of 2015 is made all the more exciting by the fact that it has been desk edited by me! I am positively brimming with pride.

Introducing Commonwealth Governance Handbook 2014/15

GG cover 2011

Commonwealth Governance Handbook 2014/15 is the comprehensive guide to public sector reform and innovation in the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth Secretariat, through its Governance and Natural Resources, Rule of Law and Political programmes, promotes effective, efficient and equitable public governance in member countries – a range of work that bridges the defining Commonwealth pillars of democracy, development and diversity.

Commonwealth Governance Handbook brings together Secretariat perspectives with those of partners in government; professions,
development agencies and the private sector. This edition covers:

  • Deepening democracy: electoral finance and e-voting technologies
  • Constitutional change, leadership and human resources
  • Open data, cyber security and governance of the internet
  • Human security: civic/ethnic considerations, cross-border issues and land tenure
  • Performance management in public services and contracting
  • Utilities, environmental risk and the ‘blue economy’
  • The Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management (CAPAM) Innovation Awards

The publication also contains 53 governance profiles of member countries as well as progress on the Millennium Development Goals and other indicators.

For more information or to purchase a copy of the publication please visit our website.

Children’s book review tour! Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad – Henry Cole

“Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves” ― Abraham Lincoln

Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad – Henry Cole


Another children’s classic, the picture book. It is unusual for me to try and review a book with no words at all, but a challenge I accepted and enjoyed to the last.

What would you do
if you had the chance
to help a person
find freedom.

This is the question presented to a young girl, in Henry Cole’s haunting tale of a young slave’s journey to freedom.

Unspoken is a beautiful example of a children’s picture book with illustrations that are filled with emotion and can, on their own, tell a strong and provocative tale. Cole has taken something which is often associated with children’s literature, a picture book, a wordless story, and created something beautiful. That is not to say that picture books can’t appeal to adults. Children’s classic such as The Snowman, and Father Christmas are stunning and offer equal entertainment for adults as they do for children.  Indeed, the tale told in Unspoken can speak more toward an adult audience as the innocent child is unlikely to grasp the full extent of sadness that underlies the beautiful artwork. To the child the book may appear as nothing more than a story of young girl with a secret friend.

unspoken-9780545399975-pages-16-17-1-final-rightWithout words, the young girl who lives within the illustrations of Cole’s work is almost a stranger to us; we do not know her name, or very much about her life. However, from her actions it seems as though she is from a less than well off family. Cole draws her working on a farm in tattered clothes, leading cattle and feeding chickens. It is while carrying out chores that the child sees men on horseback riding through her family’s farm, they are searching for something, and she is soon to discover the whereabouts of their quarry. Sent to the barn to gather supplies she is startle by a sound coming from a pile of corn – there is someone there.

If we knew little about the young girl, even more mysterious is the identity of the runaway. We see only their eye peeking through the ears of corn, and later, their thankful hands, reaching out to receive food encased within the young girl’s handkerchief. In my mind I have given the runaway a female identity, although each reader will have their own feelings on this matter.


The worry etched on the young girls face as she hides this secret says far more than any words could express. Her concern seeps from the pages, a combined anxiety for the creature in the corn, and that she will be discovered harbouring a fugitive.  She watches with clear disdain as men on horseback visit her father once again, offering a reward for the return of an escaped slave. You can see that the family live a simple life, likely a reward would be very gratefully received, and yet the young girl looks on, in silence.

Our heroine, beautiful in her innocence, seems only to think of the safety of the figure in the corn. She follows her heart, as the runaway follows the North Star, away from the South, to freedom. When she returns to the barn and finds the runaway gone, leaving behind a small token of thanks, she knows she has made the right choice.

Page 2 Unspoken

Without a single word Cole’s book speaks mountains. There is no colour, no creed, no judgement, just a person, helping another person.

In his author’s note Cole writes that he hopes that those who read the book will use his pictures as a starting point to create their own story – filling in all that has been left unspoken.

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” ― Gustave Flaubert

A man of the world

Glimpses of a Global Life ― Shridath Ramphal

Glimpses of a Global Life

Shridath ‘Sonny’ Ramphal was born in 1928 in New Amsterdam, British Guiana, to an Indo-Guyanese family. Having been educated at King’s College London, and later at Harvard Law School, Ramphal went on to live a decidedly ‘global’ life.

In his memoirs, Glimpses of a Global Life, Ramphal tells of his experiences working within international institutions, framing his place within the bigger picture of global politics. The book was released in November following a launch party at Marlborough House, the headquarters of the Commonwealth Secretariat and one of London’s best-known stately homes.

Among his acknowledgements, Ramphal speaks of his reluctance to write a set of memoirs, having been asked, somewhat insistently, by multiple friends and relatives, when his memoirs would emerge. He defines multiple reasons for not having written until now, one of these being that his story had not yet ended. His mind was changed over Christmas in 2011, the time of ‘resolutions’, he says, when he felt that it was not just the time, but his duty to begin writing.

Ramphal begins, somewhat unusually for a memoir, 100 years before his birth, with the abolition of slavery. But it was a key time because it formed the roots of Ramphal’s beginnings within British Guiana, a country built on the trade. The first section, ‘Beginnings’, in fact serves as less of a memoir and more of a depiction of the foundations that supported Ramphal’s life. Ramphal traces the history of the abolition of slavery, painting an extraordinary picture of his family’s life in Guiana.

He speaks of his interest in the voyage of women across the Kala Pani under the Indian indenture system and, in particular, the book Maharani’s Misery: Narratives of a Passage from India to the Caribbean, by Professor Verene Shepherd. It was a journey that his own great grandmother took, and a story which could easily have been her own. He begins the book in this way because the events helped to shape his life: “I am a child of all I have narrated,” he says.

There are eight parts to Ramphal’s memoirs, each of which could serve as a volume in its own right, every one covering an important era of Ramphal’s life. From his humble beginnings in British Guiana, Ramphal rose to become Foreign Minister of an independent Guyana, from 1972 to 1975, and later was the second Commonwealth Secretary-General, from 1975 to 1990.

One of the most moving sections of the book is that dedicated to the period of Apartheid in South Africa, described by Ramphal as “the most cruel legacy of slavery”. Ramphal recounts the importance of the Commonwealth community, and himself, in ending this legacy and helping to ensure that “the light of Apartheid’s end was faintly glowing” by the finish of his final tenure as Commonwealth Secretary-General. He speaks at length of the events leading up to the release of Nelson Mandela, whose freedom embodied that of black South Africa. In a chapter dedicated to Mandela’s freedom, Ramphal recounts his own words, emphasising the significance of Mandela’s release to the future of South Africa: “The human spirit survives in South Africa in many ways… But most of all, its survival is symbolised in the person of Nelson Mandela.”

The end of Ramphal’s time as Commonwealth Secretary-General was by no means the end of his story. He went on to become Chancellor of the Universities of Guyana, Warwick and West Indies, and served as the chair of the West Indian Commission. He was also recommended several times for the position of Secretary-General of the United Nations. In the final sections of his memoirs, Ramphal writes further of the ‘honours and intrigue’ inferred upon him, and how he was awarded honorary degrees from 28 universities and made an honorary fellow of another four.

Ramphal ends his memoirs, somewhat fittingly, with a story summing up his relationship with Nelson Mandela. In 1996 Ramphal had the pleasure of conferring upon Mandela an honorary degree from the University of Warwick. The graduation ceremony was a tremendous event held at Buckingham Palace and attended by eight top universities, but it is Warwick, and indeed Ramphal, that are said to have ‘stolen the show’ when Ramphal’s offer of a handshake was dismissed in favour of a familial embrace.

Glimpses of a Global Life is a truly fascinating look into the life of a key figure within the Commonwealth of Nations, serving not only as a memoir, but as a recollection of serious global issues spanning several decades. All this is presented in the form of a worldwide show, in which Ramphal stands centre stage, alongside a whole host of the world’s most prominent figures in international politics.

This review was first published in Global: the international briefing. Many thanks to Hansib for supplying a free review copy of the book.

Orange is the new black

It’s been very busy in the office over the last few months, culminating in the much anticipated annual summer party and simultaneous release of our best known yearly publication. We’re in the process of working on a few other books and things are a little hectic at present, so please forgive me for keeping this post short and sweet!

Without further ado it gives me great pleasure to present to you our latest publication:


Introducing The Commonwealth Yearbook 2014

The Commonwealth Yearbook 2014 is the flagship annual publication of the Commonwealth Secretariat. It is the essential reference guide to the countries, organisations, activities and values of the modern Commonwealth.

For more information or to purchase a copy of the publication please visit our website.