ICWS Oral History Project

The Commonwealth Oral Histories Project organised by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies with chief interviewer Dr Sue Onslow was a major three-year project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to produce a unique digital research resource on the oral history of the Commonwealth since 1965. The website includes over 60 major interviews with leading figures in the recent history of the organisation. The project is an essential research tool for anyone investigating the history of the Commonwealth – much of which has been characterised as informal and ‘off-the-record’ – and will serve to promote interest in and understanding of the organisation. These interviews contain the views of a wide range of Commonwealth actors – politicians, diplomats and civil servants – on the evolution of the Commonwealth and its activities since the creation of the Commonwealth Secretariat in 1965.

Sue Onslow (right) with the Association’s Treasurer, Richard Sisson.

The interviews are available on the special project website.


Almost half of the interviews were with former members of the Secretariat’s staff. Each interview can be accessed by clicking on the name at the start of each entry.

Moses Anafu, seen above, left, with Amitav Banerji. Research Officer in International Affairs Division, 1979-87. Chief Research Officer, 1987-1990. Assistant Director, Political Affairs Department, 1990-2000. Commonwealth Secretary General’s Special Envoy to South Africa, 1991-94.

Chief Emeka Anyaoku. Assistant Director of International Affairs, 1966-1975. Assistant to Commonwealth Secretary General, 1975-1977; Deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth, 1977-1983 and 1983-1989; Secretary General of the Commonwealth, 1989-1999.

Noor Farida Ariffin. Director, Women and Development Programme, 1988 -1992.

Amitav Banerji. (above, speaking at 2015 Commonwealth Association AGM). Special Adviser in Commonwealth Political Affairs Division from 1990 to 2000. Chief of Staff to the Secretary-General, 2000-09. Director of Political Affairs, 2009-2015.

Madhuri Bose. Programme Director in the Human Rights Unit, Commonwealth Secretariat.

Dr Indrajit Coomaraswamy. Above, speaking at the 2015 AGM of the Commonwealth Association. Chief Officer, Economics, in the International Finance and Markets Section, later becoming Director of the Economic Affairs Division and Deputy Director, Secretary General’s Office, before leaving ComSec in 2008. Returned as Interim Director, Social Transformation Programmes Division, Commonwealth Secretariat, in 2010.

Hugh Craft. Director, International Affairs Division, 1979-1988. Head of Brisbane/Coolum Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2001-2 Task Force.

Carl Dundas. Joined Commonwealth Secretariat as Special Legal Adviser in 1980. Leader of Commonwealth Secretariat Electoral Technical Assistance Missions to Guyana, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Sierra Leone. Leader of Commonwealth Secretariat Support Team to Observer Groups in Malaysia (1990), Zambia (1991), Kenya (1992), Guyana (1992 & 1997), Malawi (1994), Mozambique (1994), Tanzania (1995), Tanzania (2000), Trinidad & Tobago (2000). Retired from Secretariat in 2001.

Max Gaylard. Director of Political Affairs, 1988 -96.

Raja Gomez. (Above, with Patsy Robertson). Assistant Director of the Management Development Division, 1976-1984; Director, Commonwealth Youth Programme, Commonwealth Secretariat, 1984-1992.

Gerald Hensley. Special Assistant to the Commonwealth Secretary General, 1965-1969. Chaired the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, advising Papua New Guinea Government on the reconstruction of its armed forces, 2000.

Vijay Krishnarayan. Deputy Director, Commonwealth Foundation, 2006-12. Director, Commonwealth Foundation, 2012- 2019.

Chris Laidlaw. Assistant to Commonwealth Secretary General, 1978-1986.

Neville Linton. Senior Official, Political Division, Commonwealth Secretariat, 1983-1995.

Sir Peter Marshall. Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General, 1983-88. Chairman of the Commonwealth Trust and Royal Commonwealth Society, 1988-92. Chairman of the Joint Commonwealth Societies Council, 1993-2003.

Carolyn McAskie. Assistant Director of Finance and Personnel, Commonwealth Secretariat, 1975-80.

David McDowell. Special Assistant to Secretary General, Commonwealth Secretariat, London, 1969-72.

Sir Donald C. McKinnon. Secretary General of the Commonwealth, 2000-08.

Stuart Mole. Special Assistant to Secretary-General, 1984–90; Director, Secretary-General’s Office, 1990–2000.

Matthew Neuhaus. (Above at the 2015 Commonwealth Association AGM). Director of the Political Affairs Division, 2002-2008.

Sandra Pepera. Analyst in the Political Affairs Division, 1995-2000.

Dr Bishnodat Persaud, seen above (left) with Vince Cable and Mark Robinson. Chief Economics Officer of Commodities Division, 1974-76; Assistant Director of Economic Affairs Division, 1976-82; Director and Head of Economic Affairs Division, 1982-92. Advisor to Commonwealth Secretariat and World Bank on Small States, 2005-06.

Sir Shridath Surendranath (Sonny) Ramphal. Commonwealth Secretary General, 1975-90.

Mark Robinson Assistant Director, Office of the Commonwealth Secretary General (Sir Shridath Ramphal), 1977-83.

Dorienne Rowan-Campbell. Director, Commonwealth Women and Development Programme, 1980-87.

Hugh Segal. Member of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, 2010-11.

Kamalesh Sharma (right) with his successor Baroness Scotland

Kamalesh Sharma. Commonwealth Secretary General, 2008-2016.

Jon Sheppard. Director of Political Affairs, 1996-2002.

Carl Wright. Commonwealth Trade Union Council, founding Director, 1980-1988. Commonwealth Secretariat, Assistant Director, 1988-1994. Commonwealth Local Government Forum, Secretary-General, 1994-2016.

Witness Seminars

There were also three witness seminars on the work of the Commonwealth in which former staff members took part.

The heartbeat of a modern Commonwealth? The Commonwealth Secretariat 1965-2013

Report available here

Former staff members who took part included: Amitav Banerji, Madhuri Bose, Richard Bourne, Cheryl Dorall, Antony Ellman, John Fowler, Max Gaylard, Simon Gimson, Rupert Jones-Parry, Joel Kibazo, Vijay Krishnarayan, Edwin Laurent, Sir Peter Marshall, Professor Stephen Matlin, Stuart Mole, Patsy Robertson, Dr Purna Sen, HE Kamalesh Sharma, Lucy Steward, Sir Kenneth Stuart, Dame  Veronica Sutherland and Peter Williams

The Commonwealth Secretariat: economics and development, and global politics

Report available here

The Witness Seminar was held on 24th March 2014 at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Former staff members who participated included Hugh Craft, John Eyres, Jon Sheppard and Pera Wells.

Britain in the Commonwealth: The 1997 Edinburgh Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

Report available here

Took place at Marlborough House, London, on Monday, 19th March 2018.

Former staff members who took part included Amitav Banerji and Stuart Mole.