Welcome to 53rd member of the club

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Auckland - Mozambique will be "warmly welcomed" today - in the words of the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, announcing the news yesterday - as the 53rd member of the Commonwealth, writes Steve Crawshaw.

The arrival of Mozambique serves as a reminder that, for some at least, the Commonwealth is far from dead. At the beginning of the conference, Cameroon received its official welcome after being admitted earlier this month. South Africa asked to rejoin the Commonwealth within two weeks of Nelson Mandela's inauguration as President last year.

South Africa and, to a lesser extent, Cameroon are obvious candidates for Commonwealth membership. South Africa had been a member before - until the apartheid state left the Commonwealth, unloved and unwanted, three decades ago.

Although Cameroon was French-ruled, part of the country was under Britain after the First World War. In addition, part of what used to be Cameroon is now Nigeria. Thus, Cameroon also has a British connection. Admittedly, President Paul Biya of Cameroon is said to have had conducted part of his inaugural conversation with the Queen - whom he now recognises as head of the Commonwealth - in French, in which he is more fluent than in English.

Mozambique was Portuguese-ruled, and thus does not fulfil any of the usual criteria that are mentioned by the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anayoku, when describing the "special qualities" of the Commonwealth.Mozambique does not use English as an official language of communication, nor does it have the partly compatible legal and administrative structures that were a legacy of British rule. Nor, as far as anybody knows, does the Queen speak Portuguese.

In Mozambique's case, however, membership seems to be a recognition of its close relationship with other former "frontline states" in southern Africa - most notably, Zimbabwe. It has a good relationship, too, with the new South Africa, which, in apartheid times, used to be the chief destabiliser in the region.