What is the Commonwealth and which countries are members?

Everything you need to know about the Commonwealth, its history and members

Joanna Whitehead
Tuesday 15 March 2022 14:24 GMT
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The Queen speaks at the formal opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2018
The Queen speaks at the formal opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2018 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were joined by Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall, and prime minister Boris Johnson on Monday to mark the annual Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey.

Hundreds of dignitaries and schoolchildren were also present for the important event in the royal calendar.

Palace officials revealed that the Queen had asked Prince Charles to represent her at the service, as she has been experiencing mobility issues and has recently recovered from coronavirus.

In an official statement, however, she wrote that she hoped the Commonwealth “remains an influential force for good in our world for many generations to come”.

She said: “In these testing times, it is my hope that you can draw strength and inspiration from what we share, as we work together towards a healthy, sustainable and prosperous future for all”, adding that the “family of nations” was a place to “pursue common goals and the common good”.

But what is the Commonwealth and which countries are members? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is the Commonwealth?

The Queen poses with heads of government and representatives of Commonwealth nations in London in 2012
The Queen poses with heads of government and representatives of Commonwealth nations in London in 2012 (AFP via Getty Images)

Also known as the Commonwealth of Nations, the Commonwealth is a political association of 54 member states, almost all of which are former territories of the British Empire.

Historically, the collective included all former British colonies, but with increased independence among nations, it has evolved into a voluntary alliance of countries with a shared history who work together for “prosperity, democracy and peace”.

How and when was the Commonwealth formed?

The Commonwealth name dates back to 1884, when the British Empire was first described as the “Commonwealth of Nations” by British liberal politician Lord Roseberry in Adelaide, Australia during a famous speech.

At this stage, the British Empire covered around a fifth of the world’s land surface and the Commonwealth was a way for Britain to retain some of this power.

Canada was one of the first countries to seek independence, largely for trade and defence reasons.

Britain agreed to make Canada a dominion - a semi-autonomous country that self-governed - but remained in the Commonwealth with the British monarch as Head of State, with the power to veto laws and deals.

Australia, New Zealand and South Africa followed suit.

Following World War I, more countries who had fought for Britain also sought independence, leading to all countries beginning to act as equal members in 1926, while still swearing allegiance to the Crown.

India chose to break away from colonial rule, however, only to later rejoin the Commonwealth after gaining independence in 1947.

Today, the Commonwealth is home to one-third of the world's population and includes both advanced economies and “developing countries”.

Membership is based on “free and voluntary cooperation”, with only 16 nations recognising the monarch at their head.

Which countries make up the Commonwealth?

The Queen meets Malala Yousafzai at the Commonwealth service in March 2014
The Queen meets Malala Yousafzai at the Commonwealth service in March 2014 (Getty Images)

Antigua and Barbuda

Australia

The Bahamas

Bangladesh

Barbados

Belize

Botswana

Brunei

Cameroon

Canada

Cyprus

Dominica

Eswatini

Fiji

The Gambia

Ghana

Grenada

Guyana

India

Jamaica

Kenya

Kiribati

Lesotho

Malawi

Malaysia

Maldives

Malta

Mauritius

Mozambique

Namibia

Nauru

New Zealand

Nigeria

Pakistan

Papua New Guinea

Rwanda

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Saint Lucia

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Samoa

Seychelles

Sierra Leone

Singapore

Solomon Islands

South Africa

Sri Lanka

Tanzania

Tonga

Trinidad and Tobago

Tuvalu

Uganda

United Kingdom

Venezuela

Zambia

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