The Commonwealth – an overview
• The Commonwealth is one of the world’s oldest political organizations. • The term 'Commonwealth' was first used by British Liberal politician Lord Rosebery in Adelaide, Australia, in 1884. During a famous speech, he referred to the British Empire as 'a Commonwealth of Nations'. • It is an association of 54 independent countries. • Its roots go back to the British Empire when some countries were ruled, directly or indirectly, by Britain. In the course of time, some of these countries became self-governing but chose to retain Britain’s monarch as their head of state. They formed the British Commonwealth of Nations. • The Commonwealth, in its current form, came into being in 1949. In that year, the Indian Constituent Assembly adopted the country’s constitution and India became a republic. However, it still wished to remain a member of the association. To accommodate the country, Commonwealth leaders agreed that membership did not have to be based on allegiance to the British Crown. As a result, the London Declaration of 1940 came into force that declared that Commonwealth members were “free and equal members of the Commonwealth of Nations, freely cooperating in the pursuit of peace, liberty and progress.” Since then, independent countries from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Pacific have joined The Commonwealth. • The last two countries to join The Commonwealth – Rwanda and Mozambique – have no historical ties to the British Empire. • Fifty-four countries are members of The Commonwealth and they are amongst the world’s largest, smallest, richest and poorest countries. • Thirty-two of the members are classified as small states – countries with a population size of 1.5 million people or less – many of them island nations.