Climate and malaria highlighted at Commonwealth leaders’ meeting

Leaders of Commonwealth nations will meet in Rwanda on Friday for a summit that promises to tackle climate change, tropical diseases and other challenges compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The summit of Commonwealth heads of state in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, is the culmination of a series of meetings earlier in the week that reported some success in efforts to improve the lives of people in the 54-nation bloc that home to 2.5 billion people.

Those figures will rise with the expected admission to the Commonwealth of the African nations of Togo and Gabon, which have applied to join the bloc despite having no colonial history with Britain. The Commonwealth comprises mostly former British colonies, but countries such as Mozambique and Rwanda, a former Belgian colony with an Anglophile leader, have in the past launched successful bids to join the group whose titular head is Queen Elizabeth II.

Rwanda’s hosting of the summit is contentious to some who cite the East African country’s poor human rights record under Paul Kagame, an authoritarian leader who has been de facto leader or president since the 1994 genocide. Other critics are unhappy with what they see as an illegal and cruel deal with Britain to transfer migrants thousands of miles to Rwanda. That deal faces legal hurdles and the first batch of migrants has yet to reach Rwanda.

World leaders attending the summit in Kigali range from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose Conservative Party leadership suffered a severe blow overnight when voters rejected the party’s candidates in two special elections, is also in Rwanda.

Prince Charles represents his mother, who at 96 is restricting her official duties.

Other meetings on the sidelines of the summit have reported some success in efforts to address pressing issues such as managing climate change and how to combat deadly diseases.

More than $4 billion was pledged Thursday for global efforts to accelerate the fight against malaria and other neglected tropical diseases. The money will come from governments, philanthropists and others in the private sector. In addition, pharmaceutical companies donated 18 billion tablets to prevent and treat those diseases.

Observers say the fundraising marks a significant step forward as malaria is one of the leading causes of death in Africa.

Dr. Francisca Olamiju, head of a non-governmental organization in Nigeria that advocates for the poor, told the AP of her high expectations for such a large gathering to boost campaigns against tropical diseases.

World leaders must “walk the talk” and mobilize more resources for the cause, he said.

The summit also calls for more climate action ahead of the United Nations climate change summit in Egypt later this year.

Commonwealth leaders are set to adopt the long-awaited “Living Earths Charter”, an action plan to tackle climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss. and the exchange of knowledge between nations.

Commonwealth governments have been asked to submit their emission reduction targets by September 23.

Some 32 of the Commonwealth members are small states, of which 25 are small island and developing states classified as vulnerable to climate change.

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Associated Press writer Rodney Muhumuza contributed to this report from Kampala, Uganda.

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