The Commonwealth: International body born out of colonial past

Saturday, April 21, 2018

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LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) — The Commonwealth staged its two-day biennial summit in London, which closed yesterday.

Here is a factbox on the group, which comprises around a third of the world's population and a fifth of its land mass and is made up mainly of former British colonies.


Full name: Commonwealth of Nations.

Member states: 53.

Head of the Commonwealth: Queen Elizabeth II (1952-).

Secretary-General: Patricia Scotland (2016-).

Population: 2.4 billion.

Area: 30 million square kilometres

Foundation of modern Commonwealth: 1949.

Headquarters: Marlborough House, London.

Focus: Development, democracy, climate change.

Key moments

1926: Balfour Declaration. Declares the UK and the dominions as equal in status as members of “the British Commonwealth of Nations”.

1931: Statute of Westminster. Established legislative independence for the dominions and set the basis for the relationship between Commonwealth realms and the crown.

1949: London Declaration. Birth of the modern Commonwealth. Allowed republics as members, to allow independent India's continued membership. “British” dropped from title.

1971: First Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Singapore.

1991: Harare Declaration. Sets out Commonwealth's core values.

Population, area, GDP

Drawn from: Africa (19), Caribbean and Americas (13), Pacific (11), Asia (7), Europe (3).

Biggest country by population: India (1.25 billion).

Smallest country by population: Tuvalu (10,000).

Biggest country by area: Canada (9,984,670 square kilometres).

Smallest country by area: Nauru (21 sq km)

Biggest GDP: UK, India, Canada, Australia, Nigeria.

Smallest GDP: Tuvalu, Kiribati, Tonga, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines.


Criteria: Historic association with existing member; compliance with Commonwealth principles; commitment to democracy, rule of law and good governance.

Members in 1949: Australia, Canada, Ceylon, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, United Kingdom.

Latest first-time members: Rwanda (2009), Mozambique (1995), Cameroon (1995), Namibia (1990), Brunei (1984).

Countries which left and rejoined: South Africa (1961-1994), Pakistan (1972-1989), Fiji (1987-1997), The Gambia (2013-2018).

Countries which left and never returned: Ireland (1949), Zimbabwe (2003) and the Maldives (2016).

Main Commonwealth events

Summit: The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is held every two years.

Commonwealth Games: The Olympics-style multisport event is held every four years.

Commonwealth in 2018

CHOGM held in London, April 19-20. Main agenda points: ocean governance charter, trade and investment agenda, tackling cybercrime.

Commonwealth Games held in Gold Coast, Australia, April 4-15. Australia topped the medals table ahead of England, India, Canada and New Zealand.

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