What Does It Mean to Be a Member of the Commonwealth?

Gambia withdrew from the Commonwealth of Nations, the organisation of 54 states made up in the most part by former British Empire territories.

The unexpected move, announced on Gambian state television, gave no indication as to the reasons behind the decision other than declaring that “Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism “.

The Gambia, a West African nation that, at 11,295km², is the smallest #country in mainland Africa, gained independence from the United Kingdom (and joined the Commonwealth) in 1965, becoming a republic in 1970. Since then, despite a buoyant tourism industry, its relationship with the United Kingdom has been tumultuous, with the UK often condemning the Gambia’s political decisions.

In light of these disagreements with its former colonial ruler, Gambia’s Commonwealth departure, which follows on from Zimbabwe’s exit in 2003, may have come without warning, but simultaneously cannot be seen as completely surprising. It also raises yet again the question of the role of the Commonwealth and what it means to be a member.

Every former #British colony has elected to join the modern Commonwealth since it was created in 1949. An almost #utopian vision, its role was to promote equality, democracy and the interests of every member nation and to unite them in a #global community.

However, as time as has passed, these freshly liberated nations have grown and developed into independent states in their own right, with the #Commonwealth often little more than an afterthought in the nation’s consciousness. A number of member states have even come to resent what they see as a critical rather than proactive approach, with many frustrated about the Commonwealth’s lack of practical action in their affairs.

Is the Commonwealth of Nations, therefore, an organisation past its prime, one espousing ideals it does not act on and wasting time and resources better spent elsewhere? In a sense, perhaps. On the other hand, the Commonwealth provides dozens of nations with the chance to be seen and listened to as equals and strives constantly to improve standards of democracy and human rights for millions of citizens within member borders. With nations still queuing up to become a member, it looks to be one organisation with a lot of life left in it yet.


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