The commonwealth is defined as a free association of the former territories or colonies of the British Empire. These are territories that were colonized by Britain worldwide and later granted independence.
THE ORIGIN OF THE COMMON WEALTH
- The origin of Commonwealth could be traced to 1907 when representatives of governments of the five countries, Austria, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa met for the first time.
- The Association was formerly known as British Commonwealth of Nations.
- The modern Commonwealth began in 1931 when British parliament created statue of Westminster.
- Commonwealth is composed of 54 countries now.
The former British empire comprised territories or colonies acquired by Britain in different parts of the world. e.g. In 19th century, the former British colonies of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, etc, had partial representative governments but had Governors that (represented the Queen) administered these colonies. So, the link was there with Britain. However, they were autonomous within the British empire. Therefore, commonwealth of nations replaced the old imperial system of the British Empire, the crown colonies, mandates, trust territories and protectorates, and dependences. A new system of partnership, involving sovereign and states (dominion and republics) that are of equal basis. The name commonwealth was adopted in1951. However, Ireland ceased to be a member in 1949, South Africa in 1961, Burma left in 1948, etc. The headquarters of the commonwealth is London. Meetings of this organisation are held once every two years, attended by Heads of states and governments of member-states.
Membership: As at 1975, the total membership of commonwealth was 31, New Zealand joined in (1948), Malaysia (1957), Ghana (1957), Nigeria (1960), Cyprus (1961), Sierra Leone (1961) Uganda (1962), Trinidad and Tobago (1962), Jamaica (1962), Kenya (1963),Tanzania (1964), Malawi (1964), Malta (1964), Zambia (1964). The Gambia (1965), Guyana (1966), Botswana (1966), Lesotho (1966), Barbados (1966), Mauritius (1968), Swaziland (1968).
- All members of the Commonwealth whether monarchies or republics are free to pursue their domestic and foreign policies.
- There should be equality in status, no subordination of one to another.
- Every country should have unfettered and total control over her own affairs, domestic and foreign.
THE QUEEN AS THE HEAD OF THE COMMONWEALTH
The Queen as the Head of the commonwealth was adopted in 1949,when the proposal for making India a republic within the Commonwealth was adopted and accepted. It was accepted because paying allegiance or. being submissive to the crown should not be the basis for a continued membership of the Commonwealth and that a republic can co-exist with monarchy without jeopardising the benefits of membership. Her office was separated from the headship of the republic.
AIMS AND OBJECTIVES OF THE COMMONWEALTH
- Common Understanding: Promotion of common understanding among the members.
- Solution to problems: In education, trade, science, medicine, agriculture, sports, etc.
- Territorial integrity: Respecting this and the sovereignty of members and non-member states.
- Promotion of sporting activities: This is held every four years to foster the spirit of friendship and love.
- Discussion of problems: To come together to discuss problems as it affects member states.
- U.N. Charter: To work within the frame work ofU.N. Charter and for the promotion of international peace and security.
ORGANS OF THE COMMONWEALTH
a) The Prime Minister Conference: This is the paramount organ of the Commonwealth. Membership has to do with the Heads of state and governments of member-states or their accredited representatives. This conference at the kingston’s prime ministers’ conference in 1964, agreed to establish a Commonwealth secretariat and it became a reality in 1965.
Functions of the Prime Minister’s Conference
- Approval of Budget: This body receives and approves the budget of the organisation.
- Appointment of the Secretary-General: The body appoints the Secretary-General of the organisation.
- Discussion of problems: They discuss issues, problems as they affect member-states and recommend measures or solutions for such problems.
- Power of sanction: It can sanction or suspend a member state that does not respect the objectives upon which the organisation was founded. e.g. Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth in 1995 for the abuse of human rights, i.e. the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa and other 8 Ogoni citizens.
- Receives reports: It receives and approves the report of the organisation submitted to it by the secretariat.
b) The Secretariat: The Secretariat is headed by a Secretary-General and is located in London. This organ was established after the prime ministers’ conference in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1965. Arnold Smith (1965-1975), was the first Secretary-General and is from Canada, followed by Sir Shridath Ramphal (1975-1990) from Guyana. He was succeeded by Chief Emeka Anyaoku from Nigeria as the next Secretary-General (1992-2005). He was in turn replaced by Mr. Don Mckinnon.
Functions of the Secretariat
- Annual conferences: It organises the conferences of Heads of state and government of member-states.
- Administrative and correspondence functions: The secretariat also performs these two functions.
- Preparation of reports: It prepares the reports of the organisation.
GAINS DERIVABLE FROM COMMONWEALTH MEMBERSHIP
- Scholarship: There is commonwealth scholarship for deserving students.
- Granting of Loans: The richer states help the poor ones through granting of loans or financial aid.
- Common problems: Member states help discuss common problems, ensuring closer and friendly ties among them.
- Sporting activities: Member states engage in sporting activities every four years, thereby strengthening the existing relationship among them.
- Legal system: The legal system is similar and fashioned along the British pattern. The meeting of commonwealth Law Association supports this point.
- Official language: English language is the official language. It makes for easy communication and understanding among members.
- Trading activities: Member-states of the commonwealth gain immensely from trading activities existing among them. The terms on any trading agreements are liberal, thereby creating a favourable atmosphere. e.g. Britain is one of Nigeria’s largest trading partner.
- Visit without visa: The opportunity is there for citizens of some member countries to visit and interact among themselves without visa. Free movement is assured.
- Development: Member countries can borrow money from other countries for their development programmes.
- Benefits: Technical, scientific and educational benefits: Experts in various fields are exchanged among Common wealth members
- Defence: Training of defence personnel in other military academy e.g. Britain and India.
PROBLEMS FACING THE COMMONWEALTH
- Foreign policies: Differences in foreign policies pursued by member states is a problem facing the organisation.
- The issues of EEC: Another problem is Britain joining the European Economic Community (EEC).
- Regional or sub-regional groupings: e.g. the A.U ., ECOWAS and EEC. Much attention is now paid to these regional or sub-regional groupings than the Commonwealth.
- Problem of South Africa: It created differences among members. Britain’s support for apatheid policy and the then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher’s insistence on non-sanction.
- No common currency: Previously member states have their currencies in pound sterling, but now the case is different. Compliance with decision: Member states cannot be compelled to comply with its decisions like the U.N.O. There is nobody or agency that can enforce compliance to it’s decisions.
- Restriction of movement: It is no more granted to immigrants within the commonwealth. e.g. Nigerian travelling to Britain should require a visa.
- Secession: Member-states can easily secede or pull out of the body.
- No Charter: The Commonwealth has no charter like some other international bodies e.g AU. UNO, and as such rules governing it are not properly streamlined.
- No common Military and defence pact: Like what is obtained in French community e.g France and Cameroun military pact, Warsaw pact and NATO.
- Non-payment of annual subscriptions: Inability of member states to pay their annual subscriptions is affecting the objectives and programmes of the organization.
- Political instability: Some of the member states of the Commonwealth especially the developing ones are constantly faced with political instability e.g. military intervention in the political system.
- Introduction of visa: Visa is introduced by some member states as a condition for entrance into some countries of Commonwealth. This has created difficulty for prospective immigrants fleeing their countries on the ground of political persecution or economic recession. This has affected the ideals of the Commonwealth.
- Diversities of culture: Racial and cultural differences are so pronounced among member states, and these at times affect social and cultural interactions.