Malcolm Macdonald, High Commissioner, Lusaka, to Commonwealth Office, February 1967

“The time has arrived when we should consciously guide this greatly expanded Commonwealth towards fulfilling a definite purpose, and perhaps a great destiny, in contemporary and future human affairs”. The Commonwealth’s composition could give it a powerful influence “in resolving widely the inter-racial problems” of the next couple of generations. “It is true that at present the African members of the Commonwealth…are apt to be emotional, unreasonable and occasional irresponsible about international problems in general and inter-racial problems on their own Dark Continent in particular, and that this makes the Commonwealth at the moment a perhaps unpromising group of nations… Certain African authorities’ conduct is infuriatingly immature, foolish and even savage (No doubt we should remember the more sophisticated savagery of certain European and American governments during recent years)”. However, the existence of these countries “is a fact of life” and we have to deal with them, partly since African states have 30 votes at the UN. “We must therefore recognise their power do good or ill in the supreme councils of the world – and do everything we can to knock sense into them, and to guide them slowly but surely into paths of wisdom in international and inter-racial affairs. This would be a tremendous contribution towards the peaceful, friendly settlement of various delicate and dangerous human problems of the present and the future”.

Key problems are Rhodesia, South West Africa and relations between developed and underdeveloped countries. “I believe the British can by patient, careful, comradely discussions in Commonwealth conferences appeal to the potential realism, sense of responsibility and wisdom possessed by the present group of African Heads of Commonwealth Governments, and educate them (just as they would partially educate us) in international affairs”. We need to treat them as equal, trustworthy, statesmanlike partners. If we are able to influence these Africans “they in turn will progressively help to educate other Africans at the United Nations”. Therefore, the present UK government can achieve “two acts of creative statesmanship” – first, entering the Common Market and second, developing a “uniquely influential overseas Commonwealth”. If this happens, “it can not only help greatly to promote international peace, but will also add to Britain’s prestige in world affairs”. As “in effect leader of the Commonwealth, exerting a special influence over its Asian, African and other significant members, Great Britain will continue to exert amoral and political power in the world which – through her reduced material strength in comparison with that of certain other nations – will otherwise gradually decline”.

National Archives: FCO 49/153