No one government in the Commonwealth exercises power over the others, as is the case in a political union. Rather, the Commonwealth is an international organization in which countries with diverse social, political, and economic backgrounds are regarded as equal in status, and cooperate within a framework of common values and goals, as outlined in the Singapore Declaration issued in 1971. Such common values and goals include the promotion of democracy, human rights, good governance, the rule of law, individual liberty, equality before the law, free trade, multilateralism, and world peace, which are promoted through multilateral projects and meetings, such as the Commonwealth Games, held once every four years.
The symbol of this free association is Queen Elizabeth II, who serves as the Head of the Commonwealth. This position, however, does not imbue her with any political or executive power over any Commonwealth member states; the position is purely symbolic, and it is the Commonwealth Secretary-General who is the chief executive of the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth was first officially formed in 1926 when the Balfour Declaration of the Imperial Conference recognised the full sovereignty of dominions. Known as the "British Commonwealth", the original members were the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Irish Free State, and Newfoundland. It was re-stated by the 1930 conference and incorporated in the Statute of Westminster the following year (although Australia and New Zealand did not adopt the statute until 1942 and 1947 respectively). In 1949, the London Declaration marked the birth of the modern Commonwealth and the adoption of its present name. The newest member is Rwanda, which joined on 29 November 2009. The 54 members have a combined population of 2.4 billion, almost a third of the Earth's population, of whom 1.21 billion live in India, and 95% live in Asia and Africa combined.
Currently, sixteen of the 54 member states are Commonwealth realms, with the Head of the Commonwealth as their heads of state, five others are monarchies with their own individual monarchs (Brunei, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malaysia and Tonga), and the rest are republics. The Republic of Ireland (as of 1949 according to the Commonwealth; 1936 according to Irish government) and Zimbabwe (2003) are former members of the Commonwealth. South Africa, Pakistan, The Gambia, and the Maldives left and later rejoined the Commonwealth, and Zimbabwe has formally applied to rejoin.
All dates below are provided by the Commonwealth of Nations Secretariat members list, and population figures are as of 1 February 2020.
|Country||First Joined||Region||Population||System of government||Notes[A]|
|Antigua and Barbuda||1 November 1981||West Indies||94,195||Unitary Commonwealth realm|
|Australia||19 November 1926||Oceania (Australasia)||25,215,000||Federal Commonwealth realm||Australia was one of the original Dominions at the time of the Balfour Declaration of 1926 and the Statute of Westminster 1931, although the statute was not adopted in Australia until 1942 (with retroactive effect from 1939). The Australia Act 1986 eliminated the remaining possibilities for the UK to legislate with effect in Australia, for the UK to be involved in Australian government, and for an appeal from any Australian court to a British court.|
|The Bahamas||10 July 1973||West Indies||402,576||Unitary Commonwealth realm|
|Bangladesh||18 April 1972||South Asia||165,867,307||Unitary Westminster republic||Declared independence from Pakistan in 1971.|
|Barbados||30 November 1966||West Indies||286,618||Unitary Commonwealth realm||Barbados is planning to remove Elizabeth II as its head of state and become a republic by 30 November 2021.|
|Belize||21 September 1981||Central America||379,636||Unitary Commonwealth realm|
|Botswana||30 September 1966||Southern Africa||2,377,831||Unitary parliamentary republic with an executive presidency|
|Brunei||1 January 1984||Southeast Asia||439,022||Unitary Islamic absolute monarchy|
|Cameroon||13 November 1995||Central Africa||24,836,674||Unitary semi-presidential republic||Most of the country was the formerly French mandate territory (later UN trust territory) of Cameroun, which gained independence from France on 1 January 1960. It united with the much smaller former British mandate/trust territory of Southern Cameroons, which gained independence from the United Kingdom on 1 October 1961.|
|Canada||19 November 1926||Northern America||37,653,350||Federal Commonwealth realm||Canada was the first among the several original Dominions at the time of the Balfour Declaration of 1926 and the Statute of Westminster 1931. Incorporated another original Dominion, Newfoundland, on 31 March 1949. The Canada Act 1982 formally ended the "request and consent" provisions of the Statute of Westminster 1931 in relation to Canada, whereby the British parliament had a general power to pass laws extending to Canada at its own request.|
|Cyprus[D]||13 March 1961||Eurasia||1,197,667||Unitary presidential republic||Gained independence from the United Kingdom on 16 August 1960.|
|Dominica||3 November 1978||West Indies||72,975||Unitary Westminster republic|
|Eswatini||6 September 1968||Southern Africa||1,336,933||Unitary absolute monarchy||Joined as Swaziland, subsequently changing its name to Eswatini on 19 April 2018.|
|Fiji[B]||10 October 1970||Oceania (Melanesia)||909,024||Unitary Westminster republic||Left in 1987; rejoined in 1997; suspended on 6 June 2000; suspension lifted on 20 December 2001; again suspended on 8 December 2006 because of the 2006 Fijian coup d'état. Suspension lifted on 26 September 2014.|
|The Gambia||18 February 1965||West Africa||2,155,958||Unitary presidential republic||Withdrew on 3 October 2013 citing "neocolonialism". Following the election of Adama Barrow as President of Gambia in 2016, it submitted an application to rejoin the Commonwealth on 22 January 2018, and rejoined on 8 February 2018.|
|Ghana||6 March 1957||West Africa||29,088,849||Unitary presidential republic|
|Grenada||7 February 1974||West Indies||107,894||Unitary Commonwealth realm|
|Guyana||26 May 1966||South America||773,808||Unitary presidential republic|
|India||15 August 1947||South Asia||1,353,014,094||Federal democratic Republic||Incorporated former French India (Chandannagar from 2 May 1950 and Puducherry, Karaikal, Yanam and Mahé from 1 November 1954), former Portuguese India (Goa, Daman and Diu from 19 December 1961 and Dadra and Nagar Haveli formally from 1961) and Sikkim (from 16 May 1975).|
|Jamaica||6 August 1962||West Indies||2,819,888||Unitary Commonwealth realm|
|Kenya||12 December 1963||East Africa||49,167,382||Unitary presidential republic|
|Kiribati||12 July 1979||Oceania (Micronesia)||117,636||Unitary parliamentary republic with an executive presidency|
|Lesotho||4 October 1966||Southern Africa||2,199,492||Unitary Westminster monarchy[E]|
|Malawi||6 July 1964||East Africa||18,558,768||Unitary presidential republic|
|Malaysia||31 August 1957||Southeast Asia||31,505,208||Federal Westminster monarchy[E]||Joined as the Federation of Malaya in 1957; reformed as Malaysia on 16 September 1963 with its federation with Singapore (which became a separate state on 9 August 1965), North Borneo, and Sarawak.|
|Maldives||9 July 1982||South Asia||515,696||Unitary presidential republic||Gained independence from the United Kingdom on 26 July 1965. A special member from 9 July 1982 until 20 July 1985. Withdrew on 13 October 2016. Rejoined on 1 February 2020.|
|Malta||21 September 1964||Southern Europe||422,212||Unitary Westminster republic||Gained independence from the United Kingdom on 21 September 1964.|
|Mauritius||12 March 1968||East Africa||1,286,240||Unitary Westminster republic|
|Mozambique||13 November 1995||East Africa||29,977,238||Unitary semi-presidential republic||Gained independence from Portugal on 25 June 1975. The first country to be admitted to the Commonwealth without any former colonial or constitutional links with the United Kingdom.|
|Namibia||21 March 1990||Southern Africa||2,600,857||Unitary semi-presidential republic||Gained independence from South Africa. Includes Walvis Bay and the Penguin Islands transferred by South Africa at midnight 28 February 1994.|
|Nauru[B]||1 November 1968||Oceania (Micronesia)||10,387||Unitary parliamentary republic with an executive presidency||Gained independence on 31 January 1968 from joint trusteeship of Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom. A special member from 1 November 1968 until 1 May 1999, when it became a full member, before reverting to special status in January 2006. A full member again since June 2011.|
|New Zealand||19 November 1926||Oceania (Australasia and Polynesia)||4,609,755||Unitary Commonwealth realm||Granted nominal independence (Dominion status) on 26 September 1907. One of the original Dominions at the time of the Balfour Declaration of 1926 and the Statute of Westminster 1931, although the Statute was not adopted in New Zealand until 1947. Removed final links with the British Parliament in 1986. Removed the final link with the British legal system (Judicial Committee of the Privy Council) in 2003.|
|Nigeria||1 October 1960||West Africa||194,615,054||Federal presidential republic||Incorporated the former British mandate/trust territory of Northern Cameroons on 31 May 1961. Suspended in 1995, suspension lifted in 1999.|
|Pakistan||[C]14 August 1947||South Asia||224,019,136||Federal Westminster republic||Includes the city of Gwadar, transferred from Muscat and Oman on 8 September 1958. Included Bangladesh (then known as East Pakistan) until 1971. Left Commonwealth in 1972, rejoined 1989; suspended in 1999, suspension lifted in 2004; again suspended in 2007, suspension lifted in 2008.|
|Papua New Guinea||16 September 1975||Oceania (Melanesia)||8,034,630||Unitary Commonwealth realm||Gained independence from Australia.|
|Rwanda||29 November 2009||East Africa||12,322,920||Unitary presidential republic||Gained independence from Belgium on 1 July 1962. The second country (after Mozambique) to be admitted to the Commonwealth without any former colonial or constitutional links with the United Kingdom. Admitted despite the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) finding that "the state of governance and human rights in Rwanda does not satisfy Commonwealth standards", and that it "does not therefore qualify for admission".|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis[B]||19 September 1983||West Indies||56,632||Federal Commonwealth realm|
|Saint Lucia||22 February 1979||West Indies||189,000||Unitary Commonwealth realm|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||27 October 1979||West Indies||109,501||Unitary Commonwealth realm||A special member from 27 October 1979 until 1 June 1985.|
|Samoa[B]||28 August 1970||Oceania (Polynesia)||196,954||Unitary Westminster republic||Gained independence from New Zealand on 1 January 1962. Joined as Western Samoa, subsequently changing its name to Samoa on 4 July 1997.|
|Seychelles||29 June 1976||East Africa||98,248||Unitary presidential republic|
|Sierra Leone||27 April 1961||West Africa||6,818,117||Unitary presidential republic|
|Singapore[B]||9 August 1966 (effective from 9 August 1965)||Southeast Asia||5,889,117||Unitary Westminster republic||Gained independence from the United Kingdom and joined Federation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963. Became independent on 9 August 1965.|
|Solomon Islands||7 July 1978||Oceania (Melanesia)||614,497||Unitary Commonwealth realm|
|South Africa||19 November 1926||Southern Africa||56,007,479||Unitary parliamentary republic with an executive presidency||Granted nominal independence (Dominion status) on 31 May 1910. One of the original Dominions at the time of the Balfour Declaration of 1926 and Statute of Westminster 1931. Left on 31 May 1961; rejoined 1 June 1994.|
|Sri Lanka||4 February 1948||South Asia||20,979,811||Unitary semi-presidential republic||Joined as the Dominion of Ceylon, subsequently changing its name in 1972. Became a republic in 1972|
|Tanzania||9 December 1961||East Africa||57,790,062||Unitary presidential republic||Joined as Tanganyika and later Zanzibar, which subsequently merged to form Tanzania on 26 April 1964.|
|Tonga||4 June 1970||Oceania (Polynesia)||107,228||Unitary constitutional monarchy|
|Trinidad and Tobago||31 August 1962||West Indies||1,376,801||Unitary Westminster republic||Granted nominal independence (Dominion status) on 31 August 1962. Became a republic within the Commonwealth on 1 August, 1976 under the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago Constitution Act 1976, passed by the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago.|
|Tuvalu[B]||1 October 1978||Oceania (Polynesia)||10,116||Unitary Commonwealth realm||A special member from 1 October 1978 until 1 September 2000.|
|Uganda||9 October 1962||East Africa||42,288,962||Unitary presidential republic|
|United Kingdom||19 November 1926||Northern Europe||65,746,853||Unitary Commonwealth realm||Balfour Declaration of 1926 and the Parliament of the United Kingdom enacted the Statute of Westminster 1931.|
|Vanuatu[B]||30 July 1980||Oceania (Melanesia)||279,953||Unitary Westminster republic||Gained independence from joint rule (Condominium) of France and United Kingdom.|
|Zambia||24 October 1964||Southern Africa||17,470,471||Unitary presidential republic|
^ A. Unless otherwise noted, independence was gained from the United Kingdom on the date (shown in column 2) of joining the Commonwealth.
^ B. Not a member of the Commonwealth Foundation.
^ C. Though Pakistan celebrates 14 August 1947 as its independence day, independence was officially granted at midnight, 15 August 1947. Therefore, its date of joining the Commonwealth would be 15 August 1947.
^ D. Geopolitically part of Europe, but geographically part of Asia.
^ E. Constitutional monarchy that operates under a Westminster system. The monarch is not the British monarch, hence making it not a Commonwealth realm.
|Ireland||19 November 1926||Northern Europe||18 April 1949||One of the original Dominions at the time of the Balfour Declaration of 1926 and the Statute of Westminster 1931. Withdrew after passing the Republic of Ireland Act in 1948, accepted by the United Kingdom in the Ireland Act 1949.|
|Zimbabwe||1 October 1980||East Africa||7 December 2003||Suspended on 19 March 2002. Withdrew voluntarily on 7 December 2003.
On 15 May 2018, President Emmerson Mnangagwa submitted an application to rejoin the Commonwealth.
|Former country||Joined||Region||Dissolved||Rejoined as part of||Notes|
|Malaya||31 August 1957||Southeast Asia||16 September 1963||Malaysia||Reformed as the Federation of Malaysia with Singapore (became a separate member in 1965), Sabah, and Sarawak.|
|Newfoundland||19 November 1926||North America||31 March 1949||Canada||One of the original Dominions at the time of the Balfour Declaration of 1926 and the Statute of Westminster 1931. Government suspended on 16 February 1934, merged into Canada on 31 March 1949.|
|Tanganyika||9 December 1961||East Africa||26 April 1964||Tanzania||The two countries merged to form Tanzania on 26 April 1964.|
|Zanzibar||10 December 1963|
|Somaliland||2009 (as an observer)||Africa||~3,500,000[F]||Somaliland is an unrecognised self-declared sovereign state internationally recognised as part of Somalia. It has applied to join the Commonwealth under observer status. Its borders approximate to those of British Somaliland, which was a protectorate from 1884 to 1960.|
|South Sudan||2011||Africa||13,670,642||Gained independence from Britain as part of Sudan in 1956. Gained independence from Sudan in 2011.|
|Suriname||2012||South America||555,934||English colony of Surinam from 1650 to 1667 and again controlled by the British from 1799 to 1816. Subsequently, a Dutch colony. In 2012, Suriname announced plans to join the Commonwealth and the British government has made it a priority to provide guidance to Suriname in applying for Commonwealth membership.|
|Zimbabwe||2018||Africa||16,150,362||In recent years, under the presidency of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe has dominated Commonwealth affairs, creating acrimonious splits in the organisation. Zimbabwe was suspended in 2002 for breaching the Harare Declaration. In 2003, when the Commonwealth refused to lift the suspension, Zimbabwe withdrew from the Commonwealth. Since then, the Commonwealth has played a major part in trying to end the political impasse and return Zimbabwe to a state of normality. On 15 May 2018, President Mnangagwa submitted an application to rejoin the Commonwealth.|
^ F. The population figure is based on 2014 estimates.
Other states which have expressed an interest in joining the Commonwealth over the years or states which may be eligible to join the Commonwealth include: Bahrain, Cambodia, Egypt, Israel, Libya, Nepal, Palestine, and Yemen.
Some countries and regions could also join the Commonwealth on the basis of having a constitutional historical link to an existing member, by dint of being part of the British Empire including: Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Myanmar, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong.