The origins of the Commonwealth lie in the former British Empire but today it is an inter governmental organisation of 54 nations which has equal voice and status ‘regardless of size or economic stature'. It means even the smallest country has a say in shaping the Commonwealth Policy.
The Commonwealth today comprises countries which have no relation to the British Monarchy. Thirty two member countries of the commonwealth are classified as small states with a population of 1.5 million or less and it consists of the world's most developed and influential nations.
The following is a brief profile of member countries and their history with the Commonwealth. In our first article of a series of four, 14 states which were members between 1931 to 1961 have been featured. This includes the Commonwealth's founding members; Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2013 and its side events will be held from November 10 to 17 in selected venues in Colombo, Galle and Hambantota.
New Zealand, called Land of the Long White Cloud by the native Maoris, consist of two large islands – North Island and South Island. It is a somewhat isolated country situated 1600km east of Australia, the country is a well-watered and fertile mountainous island in the South Pacific. Sir Don McKinnon of New Zealand was Commonwealth Secretary-General from 2000–08. Six New Zealanders have won overall Commonwealth Writers’ Prizes – Witi lhimaera in 1987 (Best First Book), Janet Frame in 1989, John Cranna in 1990 (Best First Book), Lloyd Jones in 2007, Craig Cliff in 2011 (Best First Book) and Emma Martin in 2012 (Short Story Prize).
New Zealand is a member of UN, WTC, OECD, Pacific Community and Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation among others.
Most fauna and flora in the island nation are unique due to its geographical isolation and includes flightless birds such as kiwi, kakapo and weka. The most significant environment issues are deforestation and soil erosion.
The UK is a union of four countries, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is a union of a group of islands in the western coast of Europe. The largest island Great Britain comprises three countries. The Commonwealth Secretariat is based in London, capital of Britain. The UK also hosts Commonwealth Foundation, the Association of Commonwealth Universities, Commonwealth Business Council, Commonwealth Games Federation, Commonwealth Local Government Forum and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
The UK awards scholarships and fellowships covering politics, academia, journalism, business, judiciary, performing arts, etc. to citizens of other commonwealth countries under Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan.
Queen Elizabeth II is the head of commonwealth and Head of State of 16 commonwealth countries including Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The UK is a member of EU, UN, WTO, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Three Britons have won the overall Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and four the Best First Book award.
The Commonwealth of Australia is a Federation with six states – New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania and two territories - Northern Territory (capital Darwin) and the Australian Capital Territory, where the federal capital, Canberra, is situated. It is one of 28 island nations in the association; the mainland of Australia is the largest island in the world. Of the many internationally acclaimed Australian writers, 11 have won overall Commonwealth Writers’ Prizes, eight for Best Book and three for Best First Book.
Australia is a member of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, IOR-ARC, OECD, UN and WTO among others. The environment issues include, soil erosion, desertification and damage to Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef in the world.
The largest member of the commonwealth is Canada, at nearly 10 million square kilometers. It is the second largest country in the world and comprises the northern half of the North American continent, bordering with the USA to the south and Alaska north-west. Indented shores and numerous islands give it the longest coastline of any country at 202,100km.
Canada is a federation of ten provinces and three territories. Nunavut territory was formed in April 1999 as a semi-autonomous region. The country has over 1000 airports, 800 with paved runways. Some remote areas of the country are accessible only via air.
Arnold Smith of Canada was the first Commonwealth Secretary-General (1965–75). Three Canadians have won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Mordecai Richler, in 1990, Rohinton Mistry (born in Bombay, India), in 1992 and 1996, and Lawrence Hill, in 2008. The Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management has its HQ in Ottawa, the Commonwealth of Learning in Vancouver and the Commonwealth Journalists Association in Toronto.
It is a member of North America Free Trade Association, UN, WTO, OECD, and Asia Pafic Economic Cooperation among others. Acid rain and contamination of ocean are the significant environment issues faced by Canada.
Soutrh Africa is located in the southern most tip of the African continent and borders with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland.
Its sea borders are with the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Lesotho is enclosed within its land area. The country comprises nine provinces Two South African writers – Nadine Gordimer (in 1991) and John Maxwell
Coetzee (in 2003) – have won Nobel Prizes and Coetzee (2000) and Manu Herbstein who won ‘Best First Book in 2002’ have been overall winners in the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Scholarships for postgraduate study are awarded by South Africa to citizens of other Commonwealth countries under the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan.
South Africa is a member of the African Union, Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC), Non Aligned Movement, UN and WTO among others. South Africa’s wildlife includes large mammals characteristic of African grassland as well as species such as the white rhino that are endangered elsewhere.
The game reserves such as the Kruger and Hluhluwe are considered among the world’s best. Desertification and air pollution are among the serious environment issues the country has faced.
India is a federal republic with 29 states (including the Delhi National Capital Territory), and six union territories.
Kamalesh Sharma of India became Commonwealth Secretary-General in 2008.
Twelve Indians have been regional winners in the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and three have gone on to take the overall Best Book or Best First Book awards.
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative established its HQ in New Delhi in 1993. The country is also host to the Commonwealth Youth Programme Asia Centre in Chandigarh.
Scholarships for postgraduate study are awarded by India to citizens of other Commonwealth countries under the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan.
India is a member of the IOR-ARC, Non-Aligned Movement, SAARC, the UN and WTO. Desertification, soil erosion, deforestation, water and air pollution are some of significant environment issues facing India.
The country comprises four provinces: Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa. Dr Asma Jahangir of Pakistan was in 2010 appointed to the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, which presented its recommendations for reform in the Commonwealth to Commonwealth leaders at CHOGM in Australia in October 2011. Cricketers Imran Khan and Wasim Akram, achieved the ‘all-rounder’s double’ and Wisden Leading Cricketer in the World. Mohammed Hanif won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best First Book award, in 2009, with A Case of Exploding Mangoes.
Pakistan is a member of Non-Aligned Movement, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), SAARC, UN and WTO. Soil erosion, deforestation, desertification, and water pollution are some of the country’s major environment issues.
The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is an island in the Indian Ocean, separated from south-east India by the Palk Strait. The country comprises nine provinces.
The 58th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference was held in Colombo in September 2012. Sri Lanka was the first Commonwealth state to have a female prime minister.
Shehan Karunatilaka won the Commonwealth Writers’ Book Prize in 2012. Sanath Jayasuriya was Wisden Leading Cricketer in the World in 1996, Muttiah Muralitharan in 2000 and 2006, and K C Sangakkara in 2011.
Sri Lanka is a member of the SAARC, IOR-ARC, UN, WTO and Non Aligned Movement. The country has rich and luxuriant vegetation and Nature Reserves cover 10% of the land. Deforestation, soil erosion, coastal degradation and threat to wildlife are significant environment issues.
The Republic of Ghana, formerly the Gold Coast, is a West African country lying on the Gulf of Guinea. It is surrounded by Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Togo. Ghana has ten regions. Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, delivered the 3rd Annual Commonwealth Lecture, on ‘Africa Wants to Trade its Way out of Poverty’, in 2000.
Four Ghanaians have been regional winners in the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Ama Ata Aidoo (1992), Lawrence Darmani (1992), Lucy Safo (1994) and Benjamin Kwakye (1999 and 2006). Abédi Pelé, born in Accra, Ghana, in 1964, was voted African Footballer of the Year in 1991, 1992 and 1993. Ghana is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, African Union, Economic Community of West African States, Non-Aligned Movement, UN and the WTO.
The country is rich in animal life and the environment issues include deforestation, overgrazing, water pollution and poaching of wildlife.
The Republic of Sierra Leone, the name with the meaning ‘Lion Mountain’ in Portuguese, lies in West Africa, bordered by Guinea to the north, Liberia to the south-east, and the Atlantic to the south and west. Aminatta Forna, who was raised in Sierra Leone and the UK, won the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize with her novel The Memory of Love.
Sierra Leone is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, African Union, NAM, OIC, UN and WTO among others. Kilimi National Park in the north of the country has the largest concentration of chimpanzees in West Africa. The most significant environmental issues include depletion of natural resources during the civil war and deforestation.
Malaysia is positioned in central South-East Asia, above Singapore and south of Thailand. It shares the island of Borneo with Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam. The Federation of Malaysia comprises three federal territories (Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan) and 13 states.
Former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was in 2010 appointed to chair the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, which presented its recommendations for reform in the Commonwealth to Commonwealth leaders at CHOGM in Australia in October 2011.
Tash Aw was a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize regional winner with The Harmony Silk Factory in 2006. Sri Lankan Rani Manicka, who was born in Malaysia, won the award in 2003 with her novel, The Rice Mother. Scholarships for postgraduate study are awarded by Malaysia to citizens of other Commonwealth countries under the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan. Malaysia is a member of Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), IOR-ARC, Non-Aligned Movement, OIC, UN and WTO. East Malaysia has one of the largest and most varied bird populations in the world, including many species of parrots, hornbills and broadbills. Environment issues include deforestation, smoke or haze from forest fires and air pollution.
The Federal Republic of Nigeria lies on the Gulf of Guinea and has borders with Benin, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. It comprises the Abuja Federal Capital Territory and 36 states. Chief Emeka Anyaoku of Nigeria was Commonwealth Secretary-General
1990–2000. Wole Soyinka, born in Abeokuta in July 1934, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986. Nigerians have won 14 Commonwealth Writers’ Prizes. The Seventh Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning will be held in Abuja in
December 2013. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with a population of over 160 million.
Nigeria is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, African Union, Economic Community of West African States, NAM, OIC, UN and WTO. The most significant environmental issues are rapid deforestation, soil degradation, and desertification. Some 600 species of migrating birds stop over at Nigeria’s Yankari National park and Okomo sanctuary is home to endangered white throated monkey.
Cyprus is an oval-shaped island with ‘pan-handle’ north-east peninsula in the eastern Mediterranean. Its closest mainland neighbours are Turkey,Syria and Lebanon.
It is one of only three Commonwealth member countries located in Europe, all of which are island states and members of the European Union. Cyprus is a member of the Council of Europe, European Union, Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, UN and WTO. Environmental issues include limited water resources due to lack of rain and water pollution.
The United Republic of Tanzania in the African region borders the Indian Ocean to the east, and has land borders with eight countries. Filbert Bayi took the Commonwealth Games Men’s 1,500 Metres record at the Christchurch Games (New Zealand) in 1974.
Tanzanian national Dr William Shija was appointed Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in 2007, and Dr Asha-Rose Migiro served as UN Deputy Secretary-General from 2007–12. The country includes the highest and lowest points in Africa – the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro (5,895m above sea level) and the floor of Lake Tanganyika (358m below sea level). Tanzania is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, African Union, East African Community, IOR-ARC, NAM, UN and WTO among others. Serengeti National Park is famous for its vast migratory herds of plains animals, notably wildebeest, zebra, eland and kudu. Drought, soil degradation, deforestation, desertification and destruction of coral reefsare among ithe country’s environment issues.