Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting
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The twenty-two Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings have been hosted by seventeen countries in twenty-one cities across five continents.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, (CHOGM), is a biennial summit meeting of the heads of government from all Commonwealth nations. Every two years the meeting is held in a different member state, and is chaired by that nation's respective Prime Minister or President, who becomes the Commonwealth Chairperson-in-Office. Recently, meetings have been attended by Queen Elizabeth II, who is the Head of the Commonwealth, although the Queen's formal appearance only began in 1997.[1]

The first CHOGM was held in 1971, and there have been twenty-one held in total: the most recent (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2011) was held in Perth, Australia. They are held once every two years, although this pattern has twice been interrupted. They are held around the Commonwealth, rotating by invitation amongst its members.

In the past, CHOGMs have attempted to orchestrate common policies on certain contentious issues and current events, with a special focus on issues affecting member nations. CHOGMs have discussed the continuation of apartheid rule in South Africa and how to end it, military coups in Pakistan and Fiji, and allegations of electoral fraud in Zimbabwe. Sometimes the member states agree on a common idea or solution, and release a joint statement declaring their opinion. More recently, beginning at the 1997 CHOGM, the meeting has had an official 'theme', set by the host nation, on which the primary discussions have been focused.[2]



The heads of government of five members of the Commonwealth of Nations at the 1944 Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference.

The meetings originated with the leaders of the self-governing colonies of the British Empire.[3] The First Colonial Conference in 1887 was followed by periodic meetings, known as Imperial Conferences from 1911, of government leaders of the Empire. The development of the independence of the dominions, and the creation of a number of new dominions, as well as the invitation of Southern Rhodesia (which also attended as a sui generis colony),[4] changed the nature of the meetings.[3] As the dominion leaders asserted themselves more and more at the meetings, it became clear that the time for 'imperial' conferences was over.

From the ashes of the Second World War, seventeen Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conferences were held between 1944 and 1969. Of these, sixteen were held in London, reflecting then-prevailing views of the Commonwealth as the continuation of the Empire and the centralisation of power in the British Commonwealth Office (the one meeting outside London, in Lagos, was an extraordinary meeting held in January 1966 to coordinate policies towards Rhodesia). Two supplementary meetings were also held during this period: a Commonwealth Statesmen's meeting to discuss peace terms in April 1945, and a Commonwealth Economic Conference in 1952.

The 1960s saw an overhaul of the Commonwealth. The swift expansion of the Commonwealth after decolonisation saw the newly-independent countries demand the creation of the Commonwealth Secretariat, and the United Kingdom, in response, successfully founding the Commonwealth Foundation.[5] This decentralisation of power demanded a reformulation of the meetings. Instead of the meetings always being held in London, they would rotate across the membership, subject to countries' ability to host the meetings: beginning with Singapore in 1971. They were also renamed the 'Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings' to reflect the growing diversity of the constitutional structures in the Commonwealth.


The core of the CHOGM are the executive sessions, which are the formal gatherings of the heads of government to do business. However, the majority of the important decisions are held not in the main meetings themselves, but at the informal 'retreats': introduced at the second CHOGM, in Ottawa, by Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau,[6] but reminiscent of the excursions to Chequers or Dorneywood in the days of the Prime Ministers' Conferences.[3] The rules are very strict: allowing the head of the delegation, his or her spouse, and one other person. The additional member can be of any capacity (personal, political, security, etc.), but he or she has only occasional and intermittent access to the head.[3] It is usually at the retreat where, isolated from their advisers, the heads resolve the most intransigent issues: leading to the Gleneagles Agreement in 1977, the Lusaka Declaration in 1979, the Langkawi Declaration in 1989, the Millbrook Programme in 1995, and the Aso Rock Declaration in 2003.[3]

The 'fringe' of civil society organisations, including the Commonwealth Family and local groups, adds a cultural dimension to the event, and brings the CHOGM a higher media profile and greater acceptance by the local population.[6] First officially recognised at Limassol in 1993,[3] these events, spanning a longer period than the meeting itself, have, to an extent, preserved the length of the CHOGM: but only in the cultural sphere.[6] Other meetings, such as those of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, Commonwealth Business Council, and respective foreign ministers, have also dealt with business away from the heads of government themselves.

As the scope of the CHOGM has expanded beyond the meetings of the heads of governments themselves, the CHOGMs have become progressively shorter, and their business more compacted into less time.[6] The 1971 CHOGM lasted for nine days, and the 1977 and 1991 CHOGMs for seven days each. However, Harare's epochal CHOGM was the last to last a week; the 1993 CHOGM lasted for five days, and the contentious 1995 CHOGM for only three-and-a-half, setting a precedent that has lasted since.[3]


During the 1980s, CHOGMs were dominated by calls for the Commonwealth to impose sanctions on South Africa to pressure the country to end apartheid. The division between the United Kingdom during the government of Margaret Thatcher which resisted the call for sanctions and African Commonwealth countries was intense at times and led to speculation that the organization may collapse.

In 2011, British Prime Minister David Cameron informed the British House of Commons that his proposals to reform the rules governing royal succession, a change which would require the approval of all Commonwealth realms, will be discussed at the October 28-30 CHOGM in Perth.[7]


Under the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme, each CHOGM is responsible for renewing the remit of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, whose responsibility it is to uphold the Harare Declaration on the core political principles of the Commonwealth.[8]

Margaret Thatcher's view

Carol Thatcher wrote in her book Below the Parapet that her parents, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis used to joke that CHOGM stood for "Coons holidaying on government money".[9][10] A Thatcher aide, in the 1994 PBS video, "The Windsors: A Royal Family," claimed that she privately used to say that CHOGM stood for Compulsory Handouts to Greedy Mendicants.[11]


As the convocation of heads of governments and permanent Commonwealth staff and experts, CHOGMs are the highest institution of action in the Commonwealth, and rare occasions on which Commonwealth leaders all come together. CHOGMs have been the venues of many of the Commonwealth's most dramatic events. Robert Mugabe announced Zimbabwe's immediate withdrawal from the Commonwealth at the 2003 CHOGM,[12] and Nigeria's execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others on the first day of the 1995 CHOGM led to that country's suspension.[6]

It has also been the trigger of a number of events that have shook participating countries domestically. The departure of Uganda's President Milton Obote to the 1971 CHOGM allowed Idi Amin to overthrow Obote's government. Similarly, President James Mancham's attendance of the 1977 CHOGM gave Prime Minister France-Albert René the opportunity to seize power in the Seychelles.[6]

List of meetings

Year Date Country City Retreat Chairperson
1971 14 January – 22 January  Singapore Singapore N/A Lee Kuan Yew
1973 2 August – 10 August  Canada Ottawa Mont-Tremblant Pierre Trudeau
1975 29 April – 6 May  Jamaica Kingston Michael Manley
1977 8 June – 15 June  United Kingdom London Gleneagles James Callaghan
1979 1 August – 7 August  Zambia Lusaka Lusaka Kenneth Kaunda
1981 30 September – 7 October  Australia Melbourne Canberra Malcolm Fraser
1983 23 November – 29 November  India Goa Fort Aguada Indira Gandhi
1985 16 October – 22 October  Bahamas Nassau Lyford Cay Lynden Pindling
1986 3 August – 5 August  United Kingdom London N/A Margaret Thatcher
1987 13 October – 17 October  Canada Vancouver Okanagan Brian Mulroney
1989 18 October – 24 October  Malaysia Kuala Lumpur Langkawi Mahathir bin Mohamad
1991 16 October – 21 October  Zimbabwe Harare Victoria Falls Robert Mugabe
1993 21 October – 25 October  Cyprus Limassol George Vasiliou
1995 10 November – 13 November  New Zealand Auckland Millbrook Jim Bolger
1997 24 October – 27 October  United Kingdom Edinburgh St Andrews Tony Blair
1999 12 November – 14 November  South Africa Durban George Thabo Mbeki
2002 2 March – 5 March  Australia Coolum N/A John Howard
2003 5 December – 8 December  Nigeria Abuja Aso Rock Olusegun Obasanjo
2005 25 November – 27 November  Malta Valletta Mellieħa Lawrence Gonzi
2007 23 November – 25 November  Uganda Kampala Munyonyo Yoweri Museveni
2009 27 November – 29 November  Trinidad and Tobago Port of Spain Laventille Heights Patrick Manning
2011 28 October - 30 October  Australia[13] Perth Kings Park Julia Gillard
2013 To Be Announced  Sri Lanka[13] Hambantota[14] TBA TBA
2015 To Be Announced  Mauritius[13] Port Louis TBA TBA


  1. ^ Ingram, Derek (January 2004). "Abuja Notebook". The Round Table 93 (373): 7–10. doi:10.1080/0035853042000188157. 
  2. ^ Ingram, Derek (January 1998). "Edinburgh Diary". The Round Table 87 (345): 13–16. doi:10.1080/00358539808454395. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Mole, Stuart (September 2004). "Seminars for statesmen': the evolution of the Commonwealth summit". The Round Table 93 (376): 533–546. doi:10.1080/0035853042000289128. 
  4. ^ Watts, Carl P. (July 2007). "Dilemmas of Intra-Commonwealth Representation during the Rhodesian Problem, 1964-65". Commonwealth & Comparative Politics 45 (3): 323–44. doi:10.1080/14662040701516904. 
  5. ^ McIntyre, W. David (October 1998). "Canada and the creation of the Commonwealth Secretariat". International Journal 53 (4): 753–777. doi:10.2307/40203725. JSTOR 40203725. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Ingram, Derek (October 2007). "Twenty Commonwealth steps from Singapore to Kampala". The Round Table 96 (392): 555–563. doi:10.1080/00358530701625877. 
  7. ^ "Commonwealth to discuss changing royal succession". Agence France Presse. October 12, 2011. Retrieved October 15, 2011. 
  8. ^ "The Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme on the Harare Declaration, 1995". Commonwealth Secretariat. 1995-11-12. Retrieved 2007-07-22. 
  9. ^ Phillips, Caryl (December 11, 2004). "Necessary journeys". The Guardian. Retrieved October 15, 2011. 
  10. ^ Thatcher, Carol (1996). Below the Parapet - The Biography of Denis Thatcher. Harper Collins. 
  11. ^ PBS Video, "The Windsors: A Royal Family"
  12. ^ "Editorial: CHOGM 2003, Abuja, Nigeria". The Round Table 93 (373): 3–6. January 2004. doi:10.1080/0035853042000188139. 
  13. ^ a b c "Commonwealth 'did itself some good' at summit". BBC News. 30 November 2009. Retrieved 9 December 2009. 
  14. ^ Leahy, Joe (20 May 2010). "Sri Lanka builds on Chinese support". Financial Times. 

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