Wednesday, March 7, 2018

What Are the Commonwealth Countries? Map of the Commonwealth of Nations

This map and explainer will be updated whenever there's a change in Commonwealth membership, including suspensions and reinstatements. You can find articles on each change by scrolling to the bottom of this page, or by viewing all Commonwealth articles on PolGeoNow.

The Commonwealth: Who belongs to it? Map of current and former member countries of the Commonwealth of Nations (British Commonwealth) as of March 2018 (colorblind accessible).
Map by Evan Centanni, modified from public domain graphic. Contact us for permission to use this map.
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What is the Commonwealth of Nations?

The Commonwealth of Nations - formerly the "British Commonwealth", but now usually just called "the Commonwealth" - is a loose association of countries that grew out of the British Empire as its colonies transitioned into independent countries during the 20th Century. It more or less took its modern form in 1949, but its history goes back at least to 1926, when the most Westernized colonies of the British Empire were transitioning towards independence. It's mostly a casual forum for cooperation between countries that used to be British colonies or dependencies (though some other countries have joined), and it has a charter promoting values like world peace, democracy, and human rights.

Flag of the Commonwealth of NationsOrganization Name:  
• Commonwealth of Nations
Founded: 1931 and 1949 in London, UK
Headquarters: London, UK
Website: thecommonwealth.org/

What does the Commonwealth Do?

Unlike the European Union, World Trade Organization, and many other prominent intergovernmental organizations, the Commonwealth isn't built around any kind of trade agreement or economic treaty, though its member countries do tend to favor trading with each other. Instead, it's mostly a framework for promoting democracy and human rights, raising money for economic development, and nurturing cultural ties between its member countries.

Commonwealth-wide organizations coordinate international cooperation on education, professional development, and most famously sports: The Olympics-style Commonwealth Games are held every four years as a symbol of friendship between countries with historical ties to each other.

How Many Countries are in the Commonwealth?

Today there are 53 Commonwealth nations - about a quarter of all the world's countries - all of them independent countries that also have membership in the UN. Participation in the Commonwealth is completely voluntary, and a member country can leave or reapply whenever it wants.

In the history of the Commonwealth, six countries have quit the organization, and one country, Fiji, was pushed out in 1987 over a military coup. Ireland, a member from the organization's beginning, became the first to leave when broke ties with the British monarchy and became a republic in 1949. At the time, the Commonwealth was still only for semi-independent "Dominions" sharing the British Queen or King.

South Africa then left in 1961 over the apartheid controversy, and Pakistan quit in 1972 when the Commonwealth recognized Bangladesh's secession. Three more countries - Zimbabwe, the Gambia, and the Maldives - have withdrawn over the past fifteen years after being accused of disrespecting democracy or human rights. Fiji, South Africa, Pakistan, and the Gambia have all since rejoined.

Another four former members countries are gone from the Commonwealth simply because they don't exist anymore: In 1949, semi-independent Newfoundland merged with Canada; in 1963, Malaya merged with Singapore, Sarawak, and North Borneo to form Malaysia (with Singapore splitting off again two years later and joining the Commonwealth separately); and in 1964 Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged to form Tanzania. All the new countries that resulted from those mergers are now Commonwealth members themselves.

See Also: BBC timeline of Commonwealth history (1926-2014)

Which Commonwealth countries is the queen head of? Map of current and former Commonwealth Realms - independent countries that share the British monarchy.
Map of the Commonwealth Realms: independent countries that share Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state

The Commonwealth and the Queen

It's a common misconception that all Commonwealth countries recognize the British Queen as their leader. Although Queen Elizabeth II is the official "Head of the Commonwealth" for now, most member countries don't recognize any king or queen in their own constitutions, and a few have their own separate monarchs.

Still, 16 of the 53 Commonwealth countries do recognize the queen as their official leader, despite having fully independent governments. These countries are a subset of the Commonwealth known as the "Commonwealth Realms".

Learn More: Which Commonwealth countries is the queen head of?

Commonwealth News on Political Geography Now

Political Geography Now brings you ongoing coverage of all changes to Commonwealth membership, including withdrawals, admissions, suspensions, and reinstatements. News articles about these changes, as well as other features related to the Commonwealth, are listed here:


Map of the Gambia in the Commonwealth of Nations (British Commonwealth) as of 2018, color coded for former and current member countries (colorblind accessible).Gambia Rejoins the Commonwealth
Under a new government, Gambia rejoined the Commonwealth in February 2018, four years after leaving.

Full map and article


Map of current and former member countries of the Commonwealth of Nations (British Commonwealth) as of May 2017, showing where the Maldives are on the world map after the country left the organization (colorblind accessible).Maldives Withdraws from the Commonwealth
The small Indian Ocean country of the Maldives chose to exit the Commonwealth in October 2016 after being threatened with suspension.

Full map and article


Map of current and former member countries of the Commonwealth of Nations (British Commonwealth) as of 2014, marking the Gambia, which withdrew from the organization in 2013 (colorblind accessible).Gambia Withdraws from the Commonwealth
In October 2013, the eccentric ruler of the Gambia, a tiny country in West Africa, withdrew unexpectedly from the Commonwealth, complaining of "neo-colonialism".

Full map and article


Which Commonwealth countries is the queen head of? Map of current and former Commonwealth Realms - independent countries that share the British monarchy.Queen Elizabeth's 16 Countries: The Commonwealth Realms
How can 16 of the Commonwealth countries all share the same queen, but still be independent? Which countries are they? Find all the answers in this popular PolGeoNow feature!

Full map and article

Graphic of the Commonwealth flag is displayed under fair use principles (source).