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Our history

The Commonwealth is one of the world’s oldest political association of states. Its roots go back to the British Empire when some countries were ruled directly or indirectly by Britain. Some of these countries became self-governing while retaining Britain’s monarch as Head of State. They formed the British Commonwealth of Nations.

In 1949 the association we know today, the Commonwealth came into being. Since then, independent countries from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Pacific have joined the Commonwealth.

Membership today is based on free and equal voluntary co-operation. The last two countries to join the Commonwealth - Rwanda and Mozambique - have no historical ties to the British Empire.

Marlborough House becomes Commonwealth centre Image of Marlborough House, its garden and Commonwealth flags. Copyright: Commonwealth Secretariat

1 September 1959

Head of the Commonwealth HM Queen Elizabeth II places Marlborough House in London, UK, at the disposal of the British Government as a Commonwealth centre.

Zimbabwe withdraws from the Commonwealth

4 May 2003

Following the CHOGM Statement on Zimbabwe, the Government of Zimbabwe withdrew from the Commonwealth.

Zimbabwe is suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth

4 March 2002

Zimbabwe, which had been a member since independence in April 1980, is suspended from Commonwealth councils in March 2002, following the presidential election, which was marred by a high level of politically motivated violence and during which the conditions did not adequately allow for a free expression of will by the electors.

Pakistan suspension lifted Flag of Pakistan

3 March 2004

Pakistan's suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth in 1999 is lifted.

Commonwealth sets up a 'Small States Office' in Geneva Commonwealth Small States Office plaque at the United Nations in Geneva

2 April 2011

The Commonwealth Small States Office provides subsidised office space for diplomatic missions of Commonwealth small states, as well as a business centre for tenants and visiting small states delegations attending multilateral meetings in Geneva.

South Africa withdraws from The Commonwealth

2 February 1961

South Africa withdraws from The Commonwealth, after pressure from member states against its apartheid policies

Cameroon joins the Commonwealth Flag of Cameroon

1 November 1995

1 November 1995

Cameroon becomes the 53rd country to join the Commonwealth.

Namibia joins the Commonwealth Image of Namibia flag

21 March 1990

21 March 1990

Namibia becomes the 52nd country to join the Commonwealth.