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Africa and the Commonwealth of Nations

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Commonwealth Nations in Africa

Commonwealth Nations in Africa

Image: ©2007 Alistair Boddy-Evans. Used with Permission

What is the Commonwealth of Nations?

The Commonwealth of Nations, or more commonly just the Commonwealth, is an association of sovereign states consisting of the United Kingdom, some of its former colonies, and a few 'special' cases. The Commonwealth nations maintain close economic ties, sporting associations and complementary institutions.

When was the Commonwealth of Nations Formed?

In the early twentieth century, the government of Britain was taking a hard look at its relationship with the rest of the British Empire, and particularly with those colonies populated by Europeans – the dominions. The dominions had reached a high level of self-government, and the people there were calling for the creation of sovereign states. Even amongst the Crown Colonies, Protectorates, and Mandates, nationalism (and the call for independence) was on the rise.

The 'British Commonwealth of Nations' was first noted in the Statute of Westminster on 3 December 1931, which recognized that several of the United Kingdom's self-governing dominions (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa) were "autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations." What was new under the 1931 Statute of Westminster was that these dominions would now be free to control their own foreign affairs – they were already in control of domestic affairs – and to have their own diplomatic identity.

Which African Countries are Members of the Commonwealth of Nations?

There are 19 African states who are currently members of the Commonwealth of Nations.

See this Chronological List of African Members of the Commonwealth of Nations, or Alphabetical List of African Members of the Commonwealth of Nations for details.

Is it Only ex-British Empire Countries in Africa Who Have Joined the Commonwealth of Nations?

No, Cameroon (which had only partially been in the British Empire following World War I) and Mozambique joined in 1995. Mozambique was admitted as a special case (ie could not set a precedent) following democratic elections in the country in 1994. All its neighbors were members and it was felt that Mozambique's support against white-minority rule in South Africa and Rhodesia should be compensated. On the 28th November 2009 Rwanda also joined the Commonwealth, continuing the special case conditions under which Mozambique had joined.

What Kind of Membership Exists in the Commonwealth of Nations?

The majority of African countries who had been part of the British Empire gained independence within the Commonwealth as Commonwealth Realms. As such, Queen Elizabeth II was automatically the head of state, represented within the country by a Governor-General. Most converted to Commonwealth Republics within a couple of years. (Mauritius took the longest to convert – 24 years from 1968 to 1992).

Lesotho and Swaziland gained independence as Commonwealth Kingdoms, with their own constitutional monarchy as head of state – Queen Elizabeth II was recognized only as the symbolic head of the Commonwealth.

Zambia (1964), Botswana (1966), Seychelles (1976), Zimbabwe (1980), and Namibia (1990) became independent as Commonwealth Republics.

Cameroon and Mozambique were already republics when they joined the Commonwealth in 1995.

Did African Countries Always Join the Commonwealth of Nations?

All those African countries still part of the British Empire when the Statute of Westminster was proclaimed in 1931 joined the Commonwealth except for British Somaliland (which joined with Italian Somaliland five days after gaining independence in 1960 to form Somalia), and Anglo-British Sudan (which became a republic in 1956). Egypt, which had been part of the Empire until 1922, has never shown an interest in becoming a member.

Do Countries Maintain Membership of the Commonwealth of Nations?

No. In 1961 South Africa left the Commonwealth when it declared itself a republic. South Africa rejoined in 1994. Zimbabwe was suspended on 19 March 2002 and decided to leave the Commonwealth on 8 December 2003.

What Does the Commonwealth of Nations do for its Members?

The Commonwealth is best known for the Commonwealth games which are held once every four years (two years after Olympic games). The Commonwealth also promotes human rights, expects members to meet a set of fundamental democratic principles (curiously enough spelt out in the Harare Commonwealth declaration of 1991, given Zimbabwe's subsequent departure form the association), to provide education opportunities, and maintain trade links.

Despite its age, the Commonwealth of Nations has survived without needing a written constitution. It depends upon a series of declarations, made at Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings.

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