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About the Commonwealth  

Quick facts about the Commonwealth

  • 53 member countries - see link on the right
    (Rwanda joined the Commonwealth on 29 November 2009)
  • includes membership from all continents and oceans - both "North" and "South"
  • one-quarter of world's nations and people
  • embracing most of the world's races, religions, and political ideologies
  • rich and poor, large and small
  • similar education systems
  • English as a common language
  • almost 2/3 small states
  • Commonwealth Day (second Monday of March)

  • Her Majesty The Queen is the Head of the Commonwealth

What is the Commonwealth?

The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of more than 50 independent sovereign states, which provide support to each other, and work together toward international goals. The Commonwealth is described as a "family" of nations, originally linked together in the British Empire, and now building on their common heritage in language, culture and education, which enables them to work together in an atmosphere of greater trust and understanding than generally prevails among nations.

Bringing together some 1.7 billion people of many faiths, races, languages, traditions and levels of economic development, the Commonwealth represents almost one-third of the world's population.

The modern Commonwealth emerged in 1949 when it was agreed that India could remain a member on becoming a republic (prior to that, members shared a common allegiance to the British Crown).* Its growth accelerated in the 1950s and 1960s with the independence of many new member countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and the Pacific.  [*Today, 32 Commonwealth countries are republics, 16 have constitutional monarchies with HM Queen Elizabeth II as their Head of State, and five have national monarchies of their own.]

All nations of the Commonwealth accept HM Queen Elizabeth II as the symbol of their free association and thus Head of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Secretary-General, appointed by member Governments, is Mr. Kamalesh Sharma, an Indian diplomat, who assumed office on 1 April 2008. Mr. Sharma previously served as India's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, where he was closely involved in Commonwealth activities.

The association has member countries all over the globe, rich and poor, large and small. It includes the world's largest territory (Canada) and second largest in terms of population (India), and many of the smallest and most remote, including Nauru, the world's smallest republic. It includes the world's driest and most sparsely populated country (Namibia) and also Guyana with some of the world's best conserved tropical forests. Several of its members are small and isolated island states, others have the opposite disadvantage of being landlocked. It includes the world's first industrialised country (Britain) and a pioneering "Asian Tiger" (Singapore), and some of the most rapidly industrialising countries (Malaysia and Mauritius). Also among the Commonwealth members are some of the world's poorest countries in terms of GNP (Mozambique, Tanzania), and some of the most disadvantaged - notably Bangladesh with its vulnerability to flooding.

The Commonwealth:

  • promotes partnership and co-operation among its members
  • promotes understanding and tolerance among its citizens
  • reduces prejudice, ignorance, disease and poverty
  • promotes democracy and good governance, sustainable economic and social development, respect for human rights and the rule of law, gender equality and protection of the environment.

The strength of the Commonwealth is in continuing behind-the-scenes activities of mutual co-operation, consulting and co-ordination. In addition to the gathering of all Commonwealth leaders every two years, there are regular governmental meetings of Commonwealth Ministers if Finance, Education, Agriculture etc. some of the examples of mutual co-operation include:

  • the establishment of regional investment funds
  • assistance in helping many countries set up stock exchanges
  • professional help in macro-economic policy, taxation and information and statistics management
  • the creation and distribution of CS-DRMS, now one of the world's leading computerised systems for debt management, used by 40 Commonwealth and seven non-Commonwealth governments or central banks
  • exchanges of highly skilled professionals and technicians
  • the establishment of the  Commonwealth of Learning

At a non-governmental level there are over 120 Commonwealth associations providing professional and technical consultation, co-operation and co-ordination of programmes and services.

Commonwealth Jubilee Time Capsule (Royal Commonwealth Society)

In honour of Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, The Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) is assembling the world’s largest online time capsule that will cover each day of her 60 years as Head of the Commonwealth. The RCS is inviting people all over the world – young and old – to contribute memories from the last sixty years, whether in the form of stories, photographs or films/videos. The best entries – one for each of the 21,915 days which make up the last sixty years – will be sealed into the capsule and presented to Her Majesty The Queen as a gift from the Commonwealth family to mark her Jubilee celebrations in 2012. The rest of the content will continue to exist online as a resource for students and teachers, historians and academics. The result will be a unique people’s history of the Commonwealth. Further details are available on the RCS’s Jubilee Time Capsule website.