Commonwealth Facts

What is the Commonwealth?

The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 53 countries that support each other and work together towards shared goals in democracy and development.

How many people are there in the Commonwealth?

More than two billion citizens, over half of whom are 25 years of age or less, and a quarter are under 5 years old.

What countries are members of the Commonwealth?

Antigua and Barbuda; Australia; The Bahamas; Bangladesh; Barbados; Belize; Botswana; Brunei Darussalam; Cameroon; Canada; Cyprus; Dominica; Fiji Islands; Ghana; Grenada; Guyana; India; Jamaica; Kenya; Kiribati; Lesotho; Malawi; Malaysia; Maldives; Malta; Mauritius; Mozambique; Namibia; Nauru; New Zealand; Nigeria; Pakistan; Papua New Guinea; Rwanda; St Kitts and Nevis; St Lucia; St Vincent and the Grenadines; Samoa; Seychelles; Sierra Leone; Singapore; Solomon Islands; South Africa; Sri Lanka; Swaziland; Tonga; Trinidad and Tobago; Tuvalu; Uganda; United Kingdom; United Republic of Tanzania; Vanuatu; Zambia.

Who is Head of the Commonwealth?

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The London Declaration of 1949 stated that the British monarch would be a symbol of the free association of independent countries, and as such the Head of the Commonwealth. These words meant that republics could be members – they could accept the monarch as Head of the Commonwealth without being their own Head of State. Thus when Elizabeth II came to the throne in 1952 she became Head of the Commonwealth.

Today the Queen is head of state in 16 of the 53 Commonwealth member countries, all of them fully independent in which – apart from the UK – she is represented by a governor-general.

When the Queen dies or if she abdicates, her heir will not automatically become Head of the Commonwealth. It will be up to the Commonwealth heads of government to decide what they want to do about this symbolic role.

The Queen has laid considerable stress on her role as Head of the Commonwealth, and made a great contribution to the association.

The Queen’s role now includes, by developing tradition, a number of symbolic functions. She holds discussions with Commonwealth leaders, in national capitals, in London and during Heads of Government Meetings. She visits the host country during each summit, meeting the leaders in individual audience and at larger formal functions.

Her state visits have included most Commonwealth countries – not only those in which she is head of state – meeting the people as well as leaders. She delivers a Commonwealth Day broadcast and is present at other Commonwealth Day events including the multi-faith observance – traditionally held at Westminster Abbey – and the Commonwealth Secretary-General’s reception.

Who is the Commonwealth Secretary-General?

HE Kamalesh Sharma

Kamalesh Sharma, an Indian diplomat, became Commonwealth Secretary-General on 1 April 2008. He was appointed to the post by Commonwealth Heads of Government at their meeting in Kampala, Uganda, in November 2007.

The Secretary-General is responsible for representing the Commonwealth publicly; and for the management of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

He is charged with the development and delivery of the Strategic Plan – a four-year framework which sets out the Secretariat’s main goals and programmes.

Promoting and protecting the Commonwealth’s values is a core responsibility. The Secretary-General does so through regular high level contact with Commonwealth governments and civil society leaders, as well as through the media and public engagements. The Secretary-General also uses a low-key, personal and discreet ‘good offices’ approach in certain sensitive situations around the Commonwealth, and occasionally appoints Special Envoys.

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