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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.

Commonwealth establishes 'Small States Office' in New York

1 July 1981

Commonwealth sets up a 'Small States Office' in New York, so that small states can take part in UN negotiations.

First election observation by Commonwealth Commonwealth Observers and a team from the Commonwealth Secretariat arrive in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe) to observe the first free elections in that country in 1980.

1 January 1980

Commonwealth group observes elections for the first time in newly independent Zimbabwe

Gleneagles Agreement starts apartheid South Africa's sporting isolation Image of UK Prime Minister James Callaghan and Commonwealth leaders relaxing at the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland in 1977

15 June 1977

Commonwealth Heads of Government issued the Gleneagles Agreement on apartheid sport at their summit in Gleneagles, Scotland on 15 June 1977.

Sir Shridath 'Sonny' Ramphal becomes the second Commonwealth Secretary-General Image of Sir Shridath Ramphal

1 June 1975

Sir Shridath ‘Sonny’ Ramphal QC of Guyana served as Commonwealth Secretary-General from 1975 to 1990.

Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation (CFTC) set up A CFTC expert with a female trainee in Zimbabwe, 1988

1 January 1971

Fund puts the skills of member countries at each others disposal

Arnold Smith becomes the first Commonwealth Secretary-General Arnold Cantwell Smith, the first Commonwealth Secretary-General

1 January 1965

Arnold Smith of Canada becomes the first Commonwealth Secretary-General and served from 1965 to 1975.

Commonwealth Secretariat is established

25 June 1965

Housed in Marlborough House in London, UK, the Commonwealth Secretariat was set up to be at the service of all Commonwealth Governments and as a visible symbol of the spirit of co-operation which animates the Commonwealth.

Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan set up

1 January 1960

Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan helps graduates study in other member countries.

HM Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation

2 June 1953

Prime Ministers and leading citizens from The Commonwealth attend the coronation at Westminster Abbey in London.