Tuesday, April 15, 2014

ICYMI: The Gambia's Withdrawal from the Commonwealth

"In case you missed it" - this is an article featuring news we couldn't cover when it first broke, but that we thought you might still want to know about. Those who read our article on the year 2013 in political geography changes already heard about the Gambia's withdrawal from the Commonwealth of Nations - now here's the full story.

Map of current and former member countries of the Commonwealth of Nations (British Commonwealth) as of 2014, marking the Gambia, which recently withdrew from the organization (colorblind accessible).
The Commonwealth of Nations. Current members in dark blue, former members in lavender. Map by Evan Centanni, modified from public domain blank map.
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Flag of the Gambia Country Name:  
• The Gambia
Official Name:  
• Republic of the Gambia
Capital: Banjul
Article by Evan Centanni

Unceremonious Departure
The Gambia, a small country in West Africa, withdrew from the Commonwealth of Nations last October in an unexpected move by idiosyncratic dictator Yahya Jammeh. The official announcement gave no explicit reason for leaving, but it did include language rejecting "neo-colonialism".

Sometimes called the "British Commonwealth", the Commonwealth of Nations is mainly a forum for cooperation between countries that were once parts of the British Empire (though it has also admitted other countries in the past). But any association it has with British colonialism is mostly symbolic - although Queen Elizabeth II is the formal "Head of the Commonwealth", within the organization itself, all members are equal and decisions are made by consensus.

See Also: 2013: The Year in Political Geography Changes

Flag of the Commonwealth of NationsOrganization Name:  
• Commonwealth of Nations
Founded: 1931 and 1949 in London, U.K.
Headquarters: London, U.K.
Website: thecommonwealth.org/
But the Commonwealth does involve itself in the promotion of human rights and democratic government, and this might be how it ran afoul of the Gambia's ruler. In 2012 Jammeh had rejected a Commonwealth proposal to open commissions in the Gambia for human rights, press freedom, and opposition to corruption. Meanwhile, in early 2013 the country scored especially low in the U.K.'s Human Rights and Democracy report.

Commonwealth Members
The Commonwealth of Nations now has 53 members, all of them independent countries which also have membership in the U.N. Participation in the Commonwealth is completely voluntary, and any member country can leave or reapply at will. Besides the Gambia, there are only two other former Commonwealth members in the world today. Founding member Ireland left when it broke ties with the U.K. in 1949, and Zimbabwe exited in 2003 after a year of suspension over democratic irregularities.

It's a common misconception that countries must recognize the queen of England as their monarch in order to be members of the Commonwealth. In fact, many Commonwealth members are republics with no monarchies. The countries that do share the queen are a subset known as the "Commonwealth Realms". Elizabeth II's current title of "Head of the Commonwealth" is separate from her role as the queen of the Realms, gives her no authority over member countries, and won't be automatically inherited by her successor.

See Also: Queen Elizabeth's 16 Countries: The Commonwealth Realms

Low-resolution graphic of the Commonwealth flag is displayed under fair use principles (source). Flag of the Gambia is in the public domain (source).