Have you ever wondered why Australia and New Zealand keep a British flag on their countries’ flags or why Queen Elizabeth II appears on Canadian money? Do you wonder what relationship India and South Africa have with Britain in the modern world and why English is so widely spoken around the globe? Well to understand the long historical ties between these countries one needs to know the long and complicated history of the British Empire. In modern times the common history of these countries carries on in the friendly relationship maintained through what is known as the Commonwealth of Nations, or formerly, the British Commonwealth, the topic of today’s blog.
The Commonwealth of Nations is the loose organisation of former British Colonies that formed as the slow process of de-colonisation occurred and as a way of promoting an ethos of partnership and recognition of a common history between member states.
The Commonweath consists of 53 Member states of which 31 are independent republics. There are 5 member states who have a monarch different from Queen Elizabeth II and 16 members (some Dominions) who still recognize Her Majesty as the reigning monarch.
All Member States are former British Colonies with the odd exception of Mozambique which was a former Portuguese colony that wanted to be a part of the Commonwealth and joined in November 1995.
The population of the Commonwealth of Nations is 1.9 billion people or nearly 30% of the world’s population.
Queen Elizabeth II is officially recognised as Head and symbol of the Commonwealth and hosts the Commonwealth Games every 4 years. She also gives a radio address every Commonwealth Day – the 2nd Monday of March every year.
The Commonwealth meet every two years in a Commonwealth state to discuss a wide range of issues affecting trade, co-operation, inter-governmental co-operation. It’s kind of like the United Nations but with friendlier inclinations towards each other.
The Commonwealth Realm is a smaller sub-group within the larger organisation who are all former colonies and who all still recognize the Queen as a Constitutional Monarch.
The Modern Commonwealth
Sceptics have accused the Commonwealth of Nations of being little more than a loosely governed, post-colonial ‘club’ but in fact rules of membership include a strong commitment to a host of shared values such as promoting democracy, human rights, and common economic development. Although politically the organisation may have little effect on member states, the commitment to core values means nations work toward such positive outcomes as the alleviation of poverty, the promotion of literacy and good governance.
With such an enormous population and land mass spanning across the globe the policy decisions and governance policy of the Commonwealth have a great impact on many people as well as perhaps affecting trends and policies of the larger global community.