The Commonwealth of Nations

The Commonwealth is mentioned on page 47 of your textbook. Here is a little more information about this organisation.

British influence has not suddenly stopped with the end of empire. In addition to the lasting attraction of colleges and universities in Britain, and the lasting popularity of British sports, the Commonwealth continues to spread British influence, even though today Britain is a member on an equal level with all the other members. 

The British Commonwealth of Nations was founded in 1931 with five initial members – the United Kingdom, Canada, the Irish Free State, Newfoundland and the Union of South Africa. Ireland permanently left the Commonwealth in 1949, Newfoundland became part of Canada in 1949, and South Africa left in 1961 due to apartheid but rejoined in 1994 as the Republic of South Africa. 

In 1946, the word “British” was dropped and the organisation became known as simply the Commonwealth of Nations. Australia and New Zealand joined in 1942 and 1947 respectively. India, newly independent, joined in 1949 as a republic, and it was agreed that Commonwealth members did not have to recognise the queen as head of state, but could simply recognise her as the leader of the Commonwealth. 

Today there are fifty-three member countries. Of the fifty-fothree, thirty-three are republics (such as India), five have their own monarchies (such as Brunei Darussalam), and the rest are constitutional monarchies with the sovereign of the United Kingdom as their head of state (such as Canada and Australia). Recently two countries that were never full British colonies have joined: Cameroon and Mozambique. Not all ex-colonies joined the Commonwealth on attaining independence. Among those that did not join are Burma and Egypt. 

The Commonwealth has become a rather loosely organised group of independent nations, tied together, of course, by history, economy and culture. Their co-operation takes place within a few formal institutions, which give a framework for development projects, and educational and cultural exchange. In all this work Britain is a full player, but with no more responsibility or power than the others members. However, British influence in the Commonwealth is still very strong.


  1. What is the Commonwealth of Nations? Why is Britain still the most influential member of the Commonwealth, do you think?
  2. Is there much to be gained for a nation that is in the Commonwealth? Why do you think most former colonies have stayed in the Commonwealth?

Web resource

Commonwealth official website

Cappelen Damm

Sist oppdatert: 23.06.2008

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